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Posts from the ‘Musings and Insights’ Category

Sanctuary

There is a musical trio known as The Kingston Trio, and during their recording career they recorded a little ditty called “The Merry Little Minuet.” While it might have been humorous, it was also a serious commentary on the times. That little minuet has been playing in my head lately.  The world seems to be falling apart. Wars, discord, unhappiness, and a pandemic all seem to be conspiring to bring us individually to a point of asking: How do I create a safe place of sanctuary for myself?

Those of us who have walked in the grief zone may be one up on this—but not necessarily. It depends on where we are in the process and how we’ve managed our self-care.

Sanctuary can be defined in many ways. The religious may see it as a place of worship. The spiritual person might see it as a state of being or a place in the heart. Still others may choose to view sanctuary as a specific location: their happy place. For this post, I’m going to use a bench found along a walking trail sheltered by trees that let the sun in so we feel its warmth.

How do we find this safe place? My experience is that it only comes to us as we shed the tears of pain, longing, desire, and uncertainty. It comes with the casting off of old certainties and beliefs and diving headfirst into the blackness of the unknown. It comes to us as we search for what we need and hope will spring forth from the ravages of trauma and personal havoc. In our recovery and rebuilding process, the hard work of deconstructing what was tires us out.

During our deconstruction process, we wonder about the ending. At first we stumble into momentary places of relief, but they are fleeting. Our work propels us forward to other new places of discovery. Slowly we encounter a place that offers us more than a brief rest and begins to take shape as a place of reflection and pause for our weary souls. Soon this place of the heart begins to heal us and to hold us in a place that we come to think of as sanctuary. It might hold us in a sacred place where only we’re allowed. It shelters and welcomes us. We can go there as needed.

With time, our reconstruction requires that we view our journey with both its pain and new hopes. We re-examine the old and discover the gift of the new. While what we’ve been through may have been hell, the place where we’ve arrived is a gift we’ve given ourselves.

Whether your personal grief was the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, mental illness that has left you debilitated, loss of faith or a faith transition, a failed relationship, or whatever hard thing life served you on your platter, you know this journey and place.

What does the above have to do with all of the crazy that is occurring in our world today? Those of us who have been to these dark places hold wisdom that will be useful to us in making peace with the world as it is.

We can and often do serve as witnesses that there is hope and support for you. We understand that pain can go away. We’ve asked the “When will this ever end?” question and discovered that we must hold space for searching our hearts. We’ve faced our personal realities and given them permission to blossom into something new and powerful.

We’ve come to learn that meditation, yoga, or a new spiritual self leads us to a park bench that we had no clue existed. We now sit on that bench and offer the questioner a place beside us. We can serve as life witnesses and companions for the weary because we did our own work.

As I reflect on the good, bad, and unpleasant of the past decades of life, I’ve come to realize that a topsy-turvy world can calm itself best if we center ourselves and take the time to quiet our souls. I look back and see how I didn’t have the skills to make it to a park bench. While I could manage a life-crisis situation and come out on top, I did not understand how to walk to the bench. The loss of my husband taught me to find the park bench and to be able to sit quietly on it. There is no drama here—only peace for my soul.

I think back on “The Merry Little Minuet” and reflect on my concerns for our present world state. Yes, I’m concerned that the U.S. is falling apart. I’m concerned that there is a war going on about a two-hour plane ride from here. I’m concerned that we’ll never feel as safe as we once did about viruses getting loose and infecting the world. I search my head and heart and in them I find peace because I’ve created a sanctuary for the soul. It is mine, and no one can take it from me.

Come, sit by me.

Truths in Death

My sister’s death and graveside service and the memorial that followed have given me time to think about perception. It is often thought that you shouldn’t speak “ill” of the dead. This is not healthy from a psychological perspective.

If there is truth to be told, there are reasons to consider telling it. Truths left untold can wound the soul. Truths that are silenced in a burial can be quite damaging. Speaking an honest reality promotes long-term healing.

The image we have in life of a person may not be the image we think we need to idealize in death. Before we tuck that squeaky-polished image into the mind, we need to ask questions: How will this hinder me going forward? In burying a truth, who is hurt? While we might want to polish the entire thing up, remember that the elements tarnish what we bury. Bodies decompose, stuff falls apart, time fades things in a negative way, and sooner or later the pieces fall apart.

With the decomposition of that which has been buried, we must also ask ourselves what it is we’re burying. We aren’t burying objects; we’re burying history. When we step back for a moment, it conjures up the thought of burying a family health history. And why would we bury vital facts that could save lives? How would that benefit us or those that follow after us? It’s the same with other history that has transpired.

If we can avoid creating generational trauma and the wounding of the soul, doing so will serve us well in the long run.

We all have a soul, though at times, some might doubt that they have a soul. You have it, and your spirituality, in whatever form it takes, stems from your soul. Your focus might be nature, walking, traveling to undiscovered places, making connections with others, or sitting in silence. The possibilities are endless!

Serving up an offering of love and generosity enables us to not wound ourselves.

I’m not good at burying things that need to be spoken. I’ve found that speaking the truth is far easier and less wounding, and that it serves us better in the healing process. Secrets can kill us. This is very true of family secrets.

I recently finished Healing the Soul Wound by Eduardo Duran. Eduardo is writing from the Native American perspective, is a psychologist, and offers up some wonderful insights on why we each need to address out individual pain.

A ceremony of my making for my personal memories that I want to work with is fine for addressing my perceptions and reality. I choose to do it privately.

I posted the question of what is taken from a memorial or funeral address and how it affects us, in hopes I’d get some great insights. I think I posted in the wrong place. The responses that came in were about the celebrations that were had: a party for the soul of the dead and the lives of the living.

As I sit here thinking about it, having a true celebration of life with no speeches doesn’t seem so bad. We still reflect on their lives. We still remember the good, bad, and ugly stuff. The truth of life is that none of us are saints, and the saints get elevated after death when they can’t protest the atrocity. This is a good thing for me, as I’m a huge Mother Teresa fan. 

Maybe the best thing for me to do with all of what was said is to let it stand. Allow for all perceptions to linger and move on. 

Love you, sis. We set you free and take our memories with us, allowing them to be what they are in our minds and hearts. I’ll create my own ceremony for you. That’s the way I’ll honor you.

Piece of Cake

A guy loses his wife after a thirty-year marriage and two weeks later he’s dating a new woman. Six months later he’s remarried.

Does this sound like a scene out of a crime show where the dude killed off the wife to pursue a love interest? Brace yourself: it happened!

Wifey poo died of cancer and this guy has barely buried the body and he’s finding a new woman. By the way, his kids are angry at him.

This story isn’t the first of its type that I’ve heard. But it is the first that was so quick where the partner didn’t commit a crime to start dating the new, soon-to-be partner.  I’ll admit that Jon and I watched a great many whodunnit shows. This guy took the cake!  

For some reason, this time, hearing this made me think about grief and finding a new partner. My view on this has changed over time. I think I’m still sorting this one out.

This is my six-year mark as a widow. My first two years were all about survival and learning how to get through the mess. The next two years were about the beginnings of peacemaking with myself and the good and bad of our relationship. Year five made me realize that maybe, with the right soul, I could do a new relationship. I’m still sitting with this one. The pandemic didn’t help, and it doesn’t help that I’m kind of shy and don’t put myself out there easily. I’ll admit that having a partner would be nice. I’ll also admit that I like calling the shots.

This brings up the question: When does one know how to move forward? My husband showed up at my back door! That isn’t happening a second time around. So how does one figure it out?

The question of figuring it out is one of the top questions asked during the grief and recovery process, right after “Am I doing this right?” This latter question is easily answered. If you’re staring grief in the face, and it is harder than hell, and you keep turning over the rocks to answer the new questions that come up for you, you’re doing it right. If, on the other hand, you jump off the grief bus because you’re feeling empty without a partner—whoa. Get yourself back on the grief bus, find a therapist who speaks good grief language, and start digging into the question of why you need to find someone.

When a marriage is successful and you want to create a new one just like what you had before, scrap the idea. It will blow up in the face of both of you. Your chemistry won’t be the same, you won’t be the same, what you want won’t be the same. 

This also goes for divorce situations. This is especially true when you divorce without doing all the grief and loss work around a failed marriage. When you do the work around the failed marriage—and do all the work you can—and then find someone new, your chances of not having a repeat divorce situation are statistically higher. This is data from a page that comes from the legal profession. I’d have to say that the stat for a second marriage holds for my widowed female-identifying friends: 60% fail rate. So why?

Relationship attitudes have changed. I’m not one to say that my grandparents’ generation did marriage really well. They didn’t. Many of them did understand the give-and-take of marriage and learned to make it work. Some of them stayed in an abusive marriage because, at the time, women didn’t have the options that are out there now. A minority were able to walk away and, with support, build strong lives as single parents, or did the work to find a second partner that did work out. It wasn’t such a disposable world then, and people worked hard at making it work.

The calm 1950s turned out to be an unseen pressure cooker for the explosion of the 1960s. Take your pick of the “I don’t need to stay in a bad situation anymore” scenarios! The Civil Rights Movement, women’s rights, and being a member of the “Tang” generation. Our classmates’ parents were breaking up, moving on, and generally not willing to settle for a sub-par situation when the perceived options and advantages for one’s mental health were available.

The bailout of the 1960s through the 1980s taught the kids that maybe relationships weren’t forever. In 1994 the term “starter relationship” was coined. I’ll admit to not having read the books cited in the article. So why am I sidetracking you? Because I believe we’ve lost touch with just how difficult the first five years of marriage can be. We’ve lost touch with the fact that there are options to scope things out before you move in together or pay an obscene amount of cash for an affair that may blow up before the debt is paid off. Because, if there are two things I’m certain of, they are that premarital counseling is a must, and that engagements are not about planning a marriage celebration—they are for breaking things off. 

If there is anything we need to remember when we believe we want to find partner number two, it is that relationship number two could fail. Here are some good questions to ask yourself as you entertain the possibility of finding someone new:

  • Why am I looking for a new partner?
  • What do I think the new relationship will be like?
  • Is this person going to have a specific job/role in the new relationship?
  • What do I want in a new relationship?
  • Have I done the hard sorting of the old relationship issues—both the good and the bad?
  • If I can’t see any negative in the past relationship, why is this?
  • Am I willing to invest in some therapy to make sure I’m looking at this correctly?
  • What would it be like to not pursue a new relationship?
  • What would my life look like in both situations?
  • (If children are involved): Am I willing to put a relationship on hold until the kids are feeling secure with me and the new situation?

I often tell people to give it one month per every year you were in the relationship. But I’ve come to the conclusion that one month per year isn’t long enough. Sometimes the healing takes years, is painful, and doing single is the best way to have your relationship cake and eat it too.

On My Way to Somewhere Else

Losses in our lives happen in many ways, and my greatest loss happened while I was trying to get to somewhere else that wasn’t on my agenda, or at least not in print. It happened in a way I won’t forget: a walk downstairs to find an altered life. A note on the dinner table telling me where his body was. That was the part of the promise he did keep.

We write scripts for our lives, and when they are interrupted the jolt can be confusing and difficult to understand. While we’re making our way along the road, the demons interrupt our peaceful walk and give us the boot off our carefully manicured path into something more like sludge, mess, and unexpected confusion.

At first, we panic, and then we try to extricate ourselves from this place, only to find ourselves pulled further into the mess of the sludge. When we realize that we can best exit the sludge by remaining calm, relaxing, and working with it, we’re free to embrace it. We can then deal with the mess in this new place. We figure out that the best method for getting free from where we are now trapped is exploring it for alternative exit options. That is how most grief and loss journeys begin: a surrender to the unknown.

I got out of the immediate sludge state and realized that there was a mountain in front of me, and that I needed to go through it to reach the place I needed to get to. That was both a relief and rather terrorizing.

With the unwanted interruption to our lives, we forget where we were headed, focusing on the path before us that has become cluttered with boulders, fallen trees, and strange critters that inhabit the once pristine path we thought we were on, and realizing that we’ve been transported to a much different place altogether. Where are we? What is this about, and will it be a help or hindrance?

No, we’re not in Oz or anyplace like it, though a part of us may wish for ruby slippers that we can click to take us magically back to before we wound up wherever this is now. We don’t get the slippers. Instead, we receive a walking stick that will come in handy in turning over the rocks, giving us leverage to lift the heavy trees that block our route, and in testing the strange new critters to see if they are friend or foe.

It’s taken several minutes to construct this, and yet the descent into this place happens instantly. We’re just not aware that within seconds of hearing they’re dead, “I’m leaving you,” “I’m moving out to pursue…,” or whatever the loss is, we’re sent by our mind into this place. As we grapple with it in those first few moments, we realize that our control is gone. Will we ever be the same? Will our world ever feel the same?

The Answer Everyone Wants

In this place we ask: When will it end? And when will things return to normal? The honest answer that we eventually discover is that we’ll develop a new normal, discover a new life path, and renegotiate what our personal universe looks like and what it is filled with. We forget about the old somewhere that had held us captive and begin searching for a new somewhere else. The catch to this search is that things no longer work the way they once did. The topsy-turvy has flung us into the unknown. All we can do is thrash around until we find something to grab onto that feels stable. 

We start to learn that the tears, the missing, and the uncertainty will fade over time, and in their place the texture and quality of what is present in our lives changes. Slowly, we stop asking when and start focusing on the how to of this new place. This leads us to finding a support system, a new village of people that is populated with those who will become our new friends. They understand where we are! They’ve been in the sludge, gotten out, and faced their own mountain. They’ve dismissed some old village residents due to the fact that they left the village or are not able to attend to the needs in the village at this time. We find a therapist who speaks our language and we seek out spiritual direction, or stumble into another path altogether. As we gain strength and our concentration returns, we begin reading books and are able to question and act on those questions. 

This new place of discovery is exciting, scary, and wide open. Oh, the options that we can explore!  Slowly, the places we were headed fade away, and we’re left only with new things to discover. 

You know how people say that we’ve changed? We have! If we do the work of grief, loss, and pain well enough, we reinvent ourselves. There are old things, new things, and a bunch of creation waiting to spring forth. It can all be good. In the meantime, the question we wanted answered disappears as we become involved in the process of creating new life within ourselves. New life and meaning are unique to each of us.

The tears and the missing are still present. They’ve taken on a new form and texture. For me, it was somewhere in my year three that I noticed the real change. How did this happen? It wasn’t about time; it was processing and a world view change. It is something we experience and understand due to the work we do around our grief, loss, and pain, effecting change deep within. 

Noticing the Gift

For some people, the loss and the grief that are encountered become a gift. What? How can this be? I’ll admit that on August 29, 2016, if you had told me I’d be typing these words in 2021, I’d have had said something to the effect of “You’re nuts!” I’m typing this and I know I’m not nuts. Telling someone at the beginning of the process that change will happen is counterproductive to the process. There are some “please do’s” and “please don’ts” that are essential to observe.

Relationships can trap us, cause us to shortchange ourselves, or make us second-guess what we want in our lives—to name just a few of the things that can happen. The fact that she cheated on you and didn’t want to work it out is sad. After the heartache passes, a new discovery of freedom comes.

He or she is now gone; the love you once had will always remain, and now you are asking new questions. You want something different from before, and finding it is a good thing. You haven’t changed; you’ve grown! You are beginning to trust your own knowing, and this is an essential component of finding the new place of existence.

The gift of the tragedy is not pleasant. We are called to understanding through the unveiling of new options that we truly have choices if look and access them in the present. It is what we find buried in the rubble that was once sitting out in the open, waiting for us to discover it for the first time. 

We couldn’t see it where we were because our understanding of our lives was focused on the life we had then. We weren’t stumbling along the path, attempting to find the new points of entrance into the new place that we need to get to.

I know some who have needed to step into employment for the first time in their lives and now report feeling fulfillment in a way they never have before. I know others who took the chance of a new career. Somehow, the lack of security allowed them to risk big! For others, it is doing the same thing with fresh new insight into the things they value most. For me, it resulted in several things. My favorite is that I returned to school for a certificate in spiritual direction. I love the program! Would I have discovered this had I not been widowed? NO! It took me moving to a new place and finding a new path to walk to do what I’m doing now.

Along the way, we employ new navigation strategies, discover our “rose rooms,” and come to an understanding that the interruption that occurred on the way to somewhere else, while tragic, has become a touchstone in our lives.

Minor Stroke of…

*Note: This happened in 2014. The similarities between a minor stroke and grief are mind-blowing.

October 3rd was a glorious and warm fall day. Jon and I were visiting friends. The drive south was warm and sunny, and we were having a great conversation. The visit was great and we were now headed home for a nice long weekend. We were in Utrecht, stuck in traffic, and I was getting tired. I put my head down. “We need to leave for home earlier,” I said. Once again, rush hour.

Pulling into Huizen, we decided to run to the store for butter, and I stayed in the car because I was just so tired. It was then that I lost all strength in my neck. I couldn’t keep my neck up! Weird as it was, I ignored it. Jon helped me into the house and I just sat on the sofa. He made dinner and we watched television.

It was after a bit of whatever-it-was-we-were-watching that we took a pause and he noticed me. I felt terrible and my right leg and left arm felt funny. He said that my face looked like it was drooping. We called the after-hours doctors. They sent a doctor out. I knew then that something was really wrong, and that I was headed to, as Jon and I call it, the “big house.” Yet another medical adventure was underway.

After the doctor took a look and got my history, he phoned Utrecht UMC. It was determined that I would go there, as my records were there and they knew about my situation.

The best way to describe what happened to me is that I felt detached from my world, and my body was not in my control. I felt suspended in space and at the same time, as if I were a heavy, limp weight that had to be helped to do things. My right leg felt like it was suspended in mid-air. I would later be able to state that I felt as if my leg were “drunk.”

Ambulances are weird spaces. They can be disorienting and scary. Instinctively I knew I was having a stroke but I didn’t want to verbalize it. That was too terrible a concept to utter. At the time I just wanted Jon to be with me, and it seemed like it took him forever to get there. As usual, there had been a car accident, so the doctor was off with somebody else.

Finally at 2:00 am, I sent Jon home. They’d be coming for me to admit me, and he needed rest. As it turned out, I won the hospital lotto that night and was wheeled into a private room. Now that was luck! Peace was to be mine in the days that followed as my health crisis unfolded. It had only begun on that Friday evening.

Before admitting me they had done a CT scan, but not an MRI: That would be done Monday. CT scans don’t show everything and this one was no exception. I had lots of symptoms that didn’t seem to last, or make sense. By mid-Sunday my right leg felt paralyzed. As I lay there wondering what was coming next, I thought, What if my lungs shut down? What if I can’t breathe? Or, what if I die in this room all alone? Now, that got me thinking. Being alone in this situation was scary. I would later beg a nurse not to leave me in the middle of the night. He was great and stayed until I calmed down.

By this time in the process, I needed assistance in getting around. It was not fun and certainly somewhat embarrassing, but you do what you have to do to keep what dignity you can. My speech was also being affected in strange ways; it was different from anything I had experienced before. The left side of my face felt like it had puffed up, as well as my tongue, and I was speaking weirdly. I was now scared. The nurses just watched.

Throughout the entire process they kept asking me to rate the pain. The rating was never higher than an eight. I had suffered worse pain with a pancreatitis attack! They kept asking and I kept telling them where things stood.

Monday came and I wound up getting an MRI. Then it was time to wait. And wait I did.

Jon came and it felt safe. Then the three doctors came in. There were no smiles. This isn’t good news, I thought. I heard the word “stroke” and then I was swirling in words. The whole thing sounded like the voice of the teacher in Charlie Brown. I just faded in and out and thought, What have I lost? I was sure that my right leg and left arm were damaged. Anything else? I thought as I lay there taking an inventory.

I wanted to scream “STOP!” so I could process this. “STOP! You are going way too fast! I’m falling behind!” Jon was now upset and asking why they had not done the MRI sooner. Why had they not seen the stroke on Friday? We thought I had not had a stroke because of the CT scan. Yet in my gut I had known I was having a stroke. I’d just had the weekend to believe otherwise. Why had I deluded myself?

Now I had to tell my family what the real situation was. I knew this would disturb my mother—it did. She was already thinking that I’d die. Thousands of miles away, she wasn’t taking it well. I only found that out when I spoke to my sister. The friends we’d visited on Friday had contacted Jon to see how I was doing. Upon finding out now that I’d suffered a stroke, they drove up to the UMC to be there and offer support.

The nice thing about private rooms is that nursing staff will let you violate the rules with visitors. They stayed until nearly 10:00 pm. Then they left, and Jon followed shortly after. I was now alone. I had to now make a choice about medication. That seemed to be one thing I remembered in the earlier conversation.

The last thing I wanted to deal with at this point in time was vision loss. I had to decide if I was willing to risk just that. Did I want to risk going blind but still be functional? I knew it could happen. It was a chance I had to take. I had to risk taking a drug that would save my body from another stroke but could wipe out the remaining 12% of my sight. I spent Tuesday agonizing over the choice, knowing that I had to accept the pill or whatever it was I was in for. I was still symptomatic and Wednesday it was decided for me. I drank the powder that would be a daily routine until forever.

Wednesday also brought with it a friend who knew of a great rehab center that was 15 minutes from home. I am so thankful that Marion knew where I could go for the needed rehab. Sometimes you get lucky with the right information when you least expect it. I feel very fortunate that way. So, I might not have had a say in medication usage, but I did get to have a say in where the rehab was to be done. I was learning that I had to take what positives were handed to me and accept them. The anger at the negatives would come in time and all too soon.

I got lucky in that there has been no major damage. You never get well from a stroke. You can recover a certain amount of usage and strength. You can learn to manage energy wisely and move on. But, you don’t get well. That will never happen, and believing that you will get well is a myth. So, I’ve entered the recovery and learning phase of post minor stroke in my life.

I have shed tears, felt despair and emptiness, and at times feel like I’m a burden to Jon. He is listening and offering support. I know this isn’t easy on him either. It is a balancing act of allowing him bad days as well.

I appreciate that friends and family want to send kind thoughts and prayers. I think that is more of a comfort to them because somehow they feel as if they are helping. It is nice to be thought of in that way when I am so far from you. What I need is help and at this point that means phone calls and visits, as well as a meal so that Jon doesn’t have to shoulder it all by himself.

I just folded some laundry and I’m wiped out. You don’t know how much energy you consume until you don’t have any to put out. In the past few weeks my life has changed. I know it will change more. Some things will be good and others won’t be so easy. I got lucky; it could have been so much worse, and I’m thankful that it wasn’t. I will recover all I can. I will build strength up in as many ways as I can. I have begun the fight in simple ways. This is something I know how to do: the inner warrior is back. I’m ready to fight for everything I can recover.

Today I’m Thankful for Science

*Note: This was written in 2015. Putting it up now seemed right.

Today I’m thankful for science. I am glad that I am breathing, and functional, and that I get to go to physical therapy. I am glad that during this coming week I’ll begin the process of strengthening my arm and my leg. I’m glad that there are people who understand what it is all about.

I’m thankful that there are doctors, and others, that took the time to sit in classrooms and labs, and learn about what is going on in my brain. I’m thankful that they had the curiosity to study and learn. I’m glad that there were people who went before, who allowed interns and residents to work on them and study them so that they could get an education.

I think back to my days as an intern in grad school and my postgrad work. I’m thankful for clients who let me learn via the process of working with them. Next week on the 27th of November, there is a day of gratitude that is celebrated in the U.S. For those who are U.S. citizens: What will you give thanks for? What is your life all about? Who has made your life better this year? Whom do you owe a great thank-you to?

Once again I will thank my sister for the trip to the U.S. I will thank her kids for helping it to be a success. I am thankful for the fact that I was able to spend three weeks with my mother. I’m thankful that I got that time because I don’t know if I’ll ever have that again. (Thanks for the bash!!!)

I am thankful for friends. I wish I could see more of you, but you are there and I’m here, and our hearts are together.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the complex that we forget the very simple. I am writing a simple post because I want to remind you of the many things you have. You have the ability to move your hands, to walk to the mailbox, and to see the sun. You can open the box or click with the mouse. Somewhere you know someone who CAN’T. During the next year, pledge to extend to them a service they need. Pick up the phone and call them more often.

Gratitude is a two-way street. We need to take the time to be thankful for the stuff we have. We need to create things for others to be thankful for. It is about giving and receiving.

It is raining and cold outside, and I’m inside where it is toasty and warm. Penelope just popped by to say hello and stick her tongue out at me. I look up and see my back-lit parasols that Jon put up here in my workspace. I owe him a great debt of gratitude for the last five weeks. He has cooked and cleaned and comforted me when I’ve been sad and blue. I cannot repay this but I can give a thankful heart and a very public mention.

On Tuesday I will have my first physical therapy session and I hope I get pushed to the max. I will also have my first ergotherapy session and that, too, will be a challenge. I can’t wait!!!!

I Think I’m in Mourning

Grieving or mourning? That is the question some are asking now.

With the onset of quarantines, being in isolation, missing seeing those we love, and social distancing, what’s not to be sad about?

I can’t sit in my favorite restaurant and eat my favorite sandwich. I can’t get my hair done. I can’t do a great many things that I was able do in January. Because I’m at a higher risk for this than some adults, I chose to quarantine as soon as I knew there was a danger of getting the Coronavirus.

Two full months into this process, I’m missing the human contact. I’m missing planning a lunch outing. I’m sad, but not really grieving. I’m mourning what I can’t have right now. I believe I’ll get it back. I haven’t lost it forever.

So, those who have love—and have food to cook—are eating their way through this thing. We’re wearing more elastic waistbands and not buttoning our shirts. If we’re home, our dress code is a wee bit more laid-back. We aren’t missing the dress clothes.

I’m sad and I mourn what once was and what I didn’t understand could vanish, because to have it could kill the innocent and those at high risk. So many are at risk! So I stay home and connect with Zoom and Facebook. It isn’t the same, but it is something. I’ll take it!

As my count continues to rise in the area of “people I know who’ve had the Covid-19 virus,” and has gone from needing more than one hand to count on, I am sobered. No one I know has died from this—yet. I mourn the change it has brought to our world.

There are those who now grieve the loss of those they love. For them there will be faces missing around a gathering. Taken too early by a thing we don’t fully understand.

In my home, while I mourn what was lost, I also am seeing the positive. We are being shown that the earth can heal if we, as humans, step back and allow it to do so. This process has also shown me that there is a time to reach out and a time to have the quiet of my peaceful space. Don’t get me wrong, I love my princess of a cat, but when you start to want her to talk so that you can hear another voice in the room, it is time to reconsider the situation.

I think what I’m attempting to convey here is that yes, this situation sucks royally. Yes, there are some good learning points that can, and will, come out of this. Maybe tonight I’ll have food delivered just for the human contact and hearing another voice. Or maybe wait until Friday. Whatever I do, I know that I’ll get some of this back. Things might change for everyone, but change doesn’t mean lost. Change means growth, and that is a good thing for everyone. Yes, I’m sad and mourning, but I’ll get to have my sandwich and great fries again.

What will you get to have?

When

“Mommy, are we there yet?”

The woman in the front seat of the car is fighting the urge to turn around and duct-tape her child’s mouth shut—permanently. This phenomenon has happened on every long journey since time immemorial. Then the mother has this flash in her mind that carries her back to the beginning of time and particles smashing together. Maybe it even happened with the sludge of the universe as the Big Bang occurred. Imagine two atoms: “Are we there yet? Are we done yet? Can we get on with the Paleozoic Era?” But, duct-taping them would have caused a disaster. She smiles to herself instead and continues to focus on the road ahead.

Maybe in the grand scheme of the cosmos, delayed gratification is one of the great laws. The universe took the time it needed to come to its present state. That can teach us something. The universe was formed with only what it had on hand from the first moment all things slammed together and all things followed in order. No credit here. It waited. The universe used its resources where it needed them, when it was ready for each new phase.

Let’s face it: Putting pleasurable stuff off is a drag, but a necessary drag. Delayed gratification is about learning to respect the journey. Delaying gratification is about knowing that you can never have it all, instantly. Delaying gratification is about learning to work for what you want—waiting for the good stuff until you can get it in a healthy fashion.

But isn’t that a myth? You well remember that last flick that showed someone having it all: the big house, expensive car, fashionable wardrobe, fulfilling job, loving family and friends, and, let’s not forget—physical beauty. But, it rarely comes instantly. Real success, like the universe we live in, is painstakingly forged one item at a time. Yet, today, there are those who can’t wait. Saving is a thing of the past. Sorting out needs from wants is becoming blurred.

Remember childhood with its lazy times of fun and exploration? If you are old enough to have been raised during a time when play was really creative and done outdoors, you perhaps remember when books were a passage into another world (and not instantly made into movies), and TV was something that you watched for very few hours weekly. If your childhood was like this, then you are one of those who learned a valued lesson: doing fun things takes planning and time.

It is also highly probable that chores and learning to work were a natural part of your life. You had to save for what you purchased. I remember going to the store to purchase some shoes I’d saved for. For weeks I walked by that store window and looked at those slingbacks. Getting them made me feel “adult” and responsible. I earned those shoes. I wore them out proudly, had them repaired, and continued to wear them out.

For each of us the lesson is different: Anticipation is a good thing. Anticipation makes the gift we are receiving more intriguing, the new dress more exciting, and the new car that we saved up for more valuable. Anticipation gives a deeper meaning to most things we have and desire. There is a type of magic to working for something. Keeping it becomes valuable to you because to discard it when it still works means that you are discarding your hard work. Tossing it out just to get the latest thing can be an issue.

As I think of all the technology that has evolved since I was a kid, I remember that sunny, July day when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon and life as we then knew it was altered. The moment was electric. Now it seems that much of the “electric” has gone out of innovation and progress. Progress is a constant in an advanced society. More and more, having it all instantly is a must. Trading up for the latest in tech, when the old is still of value, is common. To suggest that you keep what you have might be heresy. It is about having the latest and dumping the old. There is a rush on to have it all NOW with no waiting period.

We now have smartphones, smart drugs, and smarter cars, and yet we have not become any smarter ourselves. While results are faster, we as humans are still finite. We live through our technology. We live, thinking and feeling as if all answers must come fast, as if deeper thought should somehow be instant. We want that insight NOW, rather than being willing to let life teach us. We might even become impatient when our first few searches on Google fail to turn up what we need. Searching shouldn’t take us so much time. Why can’t we get it faster? Well, searching on Google is hard work, that’s why. Finding the correct answer does take some deeper looking and heavier reading. In the process you might conclude that there is not a perfect, or good enough, answer to your search, and that maybe it DOESN’T exist out there in cyberspace.

Remember when science was supposed to save us? Remember when the Peace Movement was the answer to conflict? Remember when autonomy was the answer to authority? I think we need to reread The Glory and The Dream by William Raymond Manchester.

Maybe we as a world need duct tape on our gratification instincts. Okay, that is an eensy, weensy, bit extreme. Or is it?

I have taken up baking. It is wonderful to create something that comes out of the oven and is warm and yummy. The fact is that baking demands that you wait. There is a proper time when eating will bring the desired pleasures of good food. Just think of something you love melting in your mouth and your brain will light up in anticipation. Your mouth might begin to prepare for the pleasure as you read this. BUT, you have to work to make it, so you had better make lots of it to enjoy!!!! Yikes!! I want to eat those scones I plan to bake for Saturday, but I want them right now!!!

The whole idea for this commentary came from a conversation I had with someone about the guide dog I’m working on getting. I’ve been in this process since 2010. At this point, I just want to move on. I’ve had to think about whether I’m ready, or even wanting, to move forward, because I can’t wait. Like the universe, I have had to work with raw thoughts. I’ve had to shape and train them. Crossing the street in safer places has become a must. Thinking about HOW I’ll do it and memorizing routes takes time. Learning the train stations and bus stations has been fun, but I’m glad I’m past that.

I’ve had to reevaluate my established walking routes, my future needs, and the needs of our cat, Penelope, who will have to welcome a dog into the house. Getting this dog is life changing, and making the correct choice at the right time is important for our family.

I’ve spent 15 months in Apeldoorn learning what things that I’ve needed, and lacked. While I was in Apeldoorn, I was also able to observe others with dogs. My process is of more value because of all of this. While I don’t want to rush things, I feel the time has come to move things along. It isn’t about “when” but rather about the process and how secure I feel with it.

Childhood is all about “getting there.” Young adulthood seems to be moving in the direction of attempting to get it as fast as possible and show it off. Eventually there comes a time in life when you reach “wisdom,” or the point when you accept that you never will fully have everything you think you need, but that you can have the “needful things.” The journey is what it is all about. Saving up for the good stuff is where the greatest reward lies. Understanding our real needs and allowing ourselves to have wants that might become realities brings peace through expectation.

“Mommy, are we EVER going to get there?”

“Yes honey, count the green and red cars, and tell me how many you can find.” I’ll be content to count the red and green cars until the doggy enters my life. I hope it is sooner than later because I feel better about “it” coming into my life now.

*Note: The dog turned out to be a no go.

Seasons

The air was crisp and the trees were colorful. I was happy because my favorite season of the year was present. Autumn was present in every form including the warm colors of clothing that I loved so much.

For me autumn is what I like best about the year. The northern California Indian-summer days, and the crisp feel that you get when you are out and about, are wonderful. As a child, going back to school—which I didn’t like because I had to stop reading what I wanted—was only tolerable because it meant AUTUMN was in the air. For me the world was then, and is now, perfect in the autumn.

As you age, the seasons melt into the cycles of time. The playfulness of life and a budding spring and its excitement give way to the learning of summer. Oh, and summer is filled with exploration and the joys and perils of adventure: the challenges and joys of learning on your own, as you discover that the lessons of young childhood and early adulthood must become a basis for your fast-but-seemingly-slowly-approaching full onset of adulthood. There might be some true “yikes” moments during summer. Those “yikes” moments, when you catch yourself about to make a life decision that is better rethought, can be a good thing. “Yikes” means that you are aware of what is going on!!!!

Summer brings discovery of your real “self” emerging into view. Summer also brings a desire to have it all. You don’t want to see it end. You want to play hard and never see the sun go down. Summer brings a growth that you learn from trial and error. The lessons of spring and the early summer remain with you as you feel the time now fast approaching when autumn is on the way.

If you’ve had those yikes-type moments, and have taken the time to repair what needed fixing, you are in good shape now.

Autumn is the season of wisdom. Autumn is the time when the lessons of a young spring and summer are played out. Autumn is a time of realization, regrets, new focuses in life, and a time of hopes, as well as sorrows. Before autumn ends, and the onslaught of winter comes with its powerful resolution to destroy all that you hold dear, you must navigate through the autumn.

Autumn is, in a sense, “karma collection,” or payback. Realizing that I could have made better choices has only come because I made the not-so-good choices. I took risks in life. The thing about autumn is that you can’t turn back. And, you can’t avoid it, because everything we do in life has a price attached. You must adapt, accept, let the leaves of autumn fall, and move on.

Autumn still offers me time to change, to learn, and to grow. I love autumn! Raking up autumn’s leaves is important, and like it is for a child who jumps in the pile of leaves (you know, the one he or she is told NOT to jump in), it can be exhilarating. I like to inventory the leaves and really see what is there. I learn from this inventory and that is always good. I love the process of change, even though, at times, change is an unwanted aspect of life. Getting through the trials of change still brings me hope. I am better for it.

As I now reflect on my spring, and the innocence in which I lived it, I’m amazed I did as well as I did. I look at my life and realize that it has had its challenges. Challenge is what it’s about. I’m not always thankful for that which has kicked me from behind or punched me in the front. But, I can honestly say that I’ve knocked down the walls that have sprung up in my path. Tearful days and nights have made me stronger and wiser when it comes to life. It is the mistakes that make you think about the new stuff in a self-confrontational manner.

If my spring was innocent, my summer was an adventure in learning. By being able to make both good and bad choices, and dealing with the consequences of those choices, I grew. Summer is a time when the life bank account is in “deposit mode,” and what you put in will, in the future, be withdrawn. You will have to pay for your summer. Some payments will work well, and others will hurt like having a tooth pulled without the Novocain. Life is like that, and you can’t turn from it. Sooner or later, the crisp days of autumn roll around and you enter that time when all accounts begin to go into “withdrawal mode.”

I am amazed when I hear someone say that they really haven’t had any challenging stuff happen in life. I wonder to myself what they haven’t been doing. The fact is, life is a series of challenges. Making mistakes is a good thing because it can mean that you are engaged in the life process. Learning from your mistakes means that you are progressing and committed to doing better as you move through life. Autumn is that time of the year when one can reflect.

I’ve come to the serious conclusion that few are blessed with all the wisdom they need to make life decisions at 20 or even 25 years old, and yet that is what is demanded of the young. I hear of more and more adults in their 40s or 50s who embrace the unknown of what they really want to do. They are happier for it. Autumn is a time to rethink, to take a risk, and to change the course of life. “If only I knew” becomes “Why not?”

Autumn is when you realize that it isn’t “too late” or “hopeless.” Grab the brass ring and do it!!!

Healing from the springs and summers of life makes everything more valuable. Reflection during our autumns causes us to sober up, to appreciate our youth for what it was, and to anticipate the future for what we can create as vibrant adults. Whether we’ve done it well enough in the past, or are choosing to do it well at this point in life, autumn is that time of life.

I’ve learned via observation that those who seem more at peace during their winters are those who have challenged themselves during their autumns. They are actively enjoying the lives they’ve built, and face with dignity the storms that life will still produce. I will always cherish what each autumn brings to me.

As I look out my window and notice the sun’s changing position, and feel the lowering temperature, I know that once again my favorite season is approaching. Autumn, with its crisp days and warmer colors, is just around the corner. I can’t wait.

Unending Story

A Place for My Heart

Towards the end of my work in Apeldoorn, I became aware of my personal space in the house. We moved into this house in March of 2011, and I was busy with the details of settling in and making sure our things had places. The upstairs rooms are small and it was a challenge to really know which space was best for what.

The downstairs is an open room that is “our space,” with the kitchen at one end and the other end for general use. We both like to be in the kitchen and we are learning to share the space—happily. It is nice to have a guy who wants to cook with me. The space where I work is a tiny room that has many Gail-type things within. Recently this space has seemed a wee bit cramped. Cramped isn’t good for the soul. What can I do?

Slowly, over the past month, I began to notice the lack of a feminine place for me to exist within. I’ve considered creating a dressing table where I could keep all the things that make my head pretty. The problem is that there isn’t the space to place such a table.

So Hubby will make the table, and when he really gets down to the business of design (which I’ve already done in many ways) and creating, the finished product will be wonderful. It will be nice to have the table when it is completed.

Places of Passion

As a beautiful place for me is a must, so is a place that sparks life as essential as breathing. For me, my work is such a place. I find that I become a joyous and happy soul when I think in terms of what I love and do well. I find myself exploring questions that, in turn, lead to other questions and cause me to wander over vast areas of space. I dip into one space, only to find a jumping-off point for another. The “what if” and “what about this, or that” span into hours of discussion time with another person and cause me to tingle and feel a type of life that exists nowhere else. This type of knowledge energizes me in a way that nothing else does. When I am not able to have this in my life, I find life to be dull, as if a vital ingredient is missing. I knew at a young age what I wanted professionally, and was not able to reach that goal until I was in my 30s. At 16 I was fortunate to meet, and know, someone who had returned to graduate school to pursue her master’s degree at a later age. As we spoke, and I discovered what it was she was doing, I started asking questions that we could talk about. She would tell me about what she was learning, and I discovered that I had valid opinions about what we were discussing. Psychology fit my brain in ways that studying history did not do for me. I was alive. I was also hooked.

I found that one of my early areas of interest was working with people of differing cultures; at first it was those with disabilities. How could the family system be strengthened when disability rears its head within the family walls? My interests have branched out to those of other nationalities and cultures and exploring the richness within. What was someone’s experience as a Peruvian or Mexican? How do they experience life in a different country?

During my graduate period, I began to explore other areas as well as the above-mentioned ones. Art and creativity and music were a special focus. I became aware of using journals and the power of writing it all down. I also began to understand the traumas that people endure and how they cope with them. Ultimately, my love of disability issues has remained firm. There is power in freeing the person who may be told “You can’t because you are […].” I believe that many things are possible. It is all about finding a path and making that journey—and it will take courage. This journey will change everything.

The Journey Within

There is something about the journey, and exploration of a person’s journey, that ignites excitement within my heart and soul. An “aha” moment when a light switches on, the click when a missing piece of the puzzle is found, the discovery that what one believes can change, or the finding of a new path. I want to know what the next bend in the road brings me and where the journey is headed. Change is exciting and challenging.

Respect is also a vital component. Someone is letting me into their inner space. I am allowed to walk with them through hardships and triumphs. If there is a failure, I need to respect and honor the process of their recovery and rediscovery. Compassion and respect can be a powerful ally in the healing process. It is sorrow I feel when someone decides to not go further on the path that would lead them to a better place in life, BUT at some future time, they may resume the journey. Life is full of uncertainty and how we each face the unknown says so much about us. If we each had a crystal ball, would we use it? If we saw the challenges ahead, would we still choose to go down that path? Life is about learning and meeting the challenge. “If only I had” kills the spirit. “If only I had” deprives each of us of what we can learn and gain from the mistake.

Part of my personal journey in life has been my own process of learning to ponder slowly. Learning that I don’t have to get anywhere fast has been a nice consequence of aging. Now I am prone to concluding things for myself in my own time. I may sit on something for some time before grokking it in proper fashion. My brain and soul are on a quiet and slow path to understanding the needful things. I wasn’t always as slow to conclude as I am now. The time of youth was far different. I cherish where I am and what can come of it. Who I am during my 50s will be a far cry from what I will have learned by 75 and who I will have become. If I haven’t changed and become a better person, what is the use of life? Maybe there will be one younger than myself who gains from the wisdom I’ve gathered. Someone who will say to me “You are so wise,” and I will have to say “I’ve come by this through imperfection and making both wise and stupid choices.” Maybe I’ll laugh at the thought that I’m thought to be wise. Only time will tell.

Places of Mystery

Isn’t that what all this is about? Living our best, leaving a legacy for others? Making the world a better place because we’ve touched it and made a change somewhere during our existence? Isn’t life all about doing good and not even knowing where the good leads to? You never know what you can say to reach out and inspire someone along the way. Because of what you say or do, someone might be inspired to take the first step towards a new beginning. I heard of such a situation just this afternoon: something my husband did has changed someone’s life for the better. He had no way of knowing that his willingness to be so open would help someone else reach out and move down the path of life.

I’m excited because someone is headed to a new place of discovery and mystery that will bring change and fulfillment. I’m alive!!!!

Music Bridging the Gap

“Love in any language,

Straight from the heart,

Pulls us all together,

Never apart.”

And once we learn to speak it,

“All the world will hear

Love in any language

Fluently spoken here.”

Sandi Patty sang this song and it was authored by John Mays and Jon Mohr.

Throughout my life, it has been music that has saved me from the insanity of life’s happenings. Music has been a vital part of my day. It has calmed me, allowed me to express emotions that I could otherwise not readily connect with, and it has allowed me to create wonderful things. There is one other wonderful thing about music: it is an equalizer.

My earliest memory of music is of my father playing the piano. I grew up hearing Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Mendelssohn, and countless others. Music was sometimes what I would drift off to sleep with. Music was also a chance for me to sing. I couldn’t do many things as a toddler, but I could carry a tune. I was singing before I could talk or walk. Because of my father’s music background, I was tested for absolute pitch, or perfect pitch, as it is more popularly known. I don’t quite have that, but I’m not far off from it. Considering the fact that I also have hearing loss, this isn’t too shabby. I’m proud of what I can do with music, and that I’m good enough to sing with a string quartet. It would be great to sing with an orchestra. What a blast that would be!!!!

I’ve sung in Italian, German, Spanish, and Latin. Music is a way of universal communication. Music, when done well, can shine as an example in any language with the beauty that it contains. I am discovering that there are beautiful recordings in the Dutch language. When I listen to them, the guttural Dutch sound becomes a thing of wonder. When the singer sculpts the words, well, there is an understanding that bridges the gap. Just like the “I love you” that is spoken in any language, the meaning cannot be misconstrued. So, “love in any language” becomes “music in any language.”

Music is the one thing that anyone can do!!! Think about it for a minute: You can teach someone to carry a tune and match the note. But, you don’t have to teach a child to open their mouth and sing. Singing comes naturally. Intelligence and physical ability are not factors here. Music is everyone’s gift of being heard.

Bridges to the Heart

Throughout my life there have been many bridges. One of the most powerful of those bridges has been volunteerism. During my life, I have been both a volunteer and the person on the receiving end. Both sides of the process are filled with positive feelings.

There are many ways of giving. Some commit to careers of service to others. Many people choose to give to an organization that represents something meaningful to them.

As I stop to think about the process that my future guide dog will have gone through, the first phase of that is the volunteer family who will take “my Eyelette” into their home and love and play with him, or her. What a gift!!!! Taking the time and the love to raise up a playful puppy in a healthy manner so that it can become a healthy guide dog for someone else!!!!

There is someone here at the Loo Erf who came in as a volunteer and he has affected me greatly. He loves what he does and it shows. The tricks and tips and encouragement that he has given me are gifts. It is a treat to have a braille lesson or a Dutch session with him. Personally, I think he has given this place a piece of his heart over the last ten years.

When I was in my 20s, I spent time doing an internship that involved those with mental illness. I gave several hours per week to those who were in need and in return I received a new view of life. They taught me to laugh in a new way. They taught me understanding. I learned so much from each of them. I still think of them and wonder where they are now.

We used to watch one of the animal rescue shows. Many of the animals were depressed and beaten down, but with the love and help of volunteers, they became “cute animals.” So we renamed the show “cute animals.” Volunteers are great!!!! Volunteers change lives.

My Pitch

Think about giving some of your time. The rewards are phenomenal. The sacrifice is well worth what the recipient will return to you in love and appreciation. Get out there on the web and Google up your loves, because somewhere out there, someone needs you to give to them.

The Gift of Being Heard

I’ve spent many hours listening to and being listened to. I’ve communicated, at least on some superficial level, what I meant to say. I pause to listen, to tune in, but in my haste, I fail to hear the real sound that I am in need of hearing. I listen, but fail to hear.

You can learn listening skills that will, if you practice them, enable you to not “spring” too soon. You can learn to clarify what is being said, and the person on the other end of the conversation may come away feeling as if they communicated successfully.

We listen inquisitively, we listen out of curiosity, we listen in hopes that if we do so it will somehow all be over and we can say “I listened to you. What more do you want from me?” We listen with resentment and fear. We don’t really want to know. We listen passively. We practice “active listening.” We justify all of this as doing a good bit of what we perceive listening and hearing to be.

At the end of the person’s sharing, they may be frustrated by the lack of listening we displayed. Maybe they are right. Maybe we blew it all off, tuned ourselves out. Maybe we did a “good enough” job of listening, but it wasn’t good. Maybe we got lucky. Maybe they left feeling a bit better for having spent the time in conversation. They might feel any of the above, or they might feel something else, and we might not be given the chance to find out just how we did during that conversation. There are times when we only get one shot at listening and turning it into truly hearing what the other person is telling us.

Each conversation is a one-shot deal. It is my observation that for most of us, we spend time listening, but not hearing. Hearing is an art and most of the time we fail to do it very well. Hearing is acknowledging what is left unsaid, as well as the spoken portion. Hearing is seeing and feeling the richness of the soul. Hearing can be like unwrapping a gift box. There are no courses for hearing. There are only times in our lives when we are the person who hears in fullness and the person that is fully heard. These are the times that we remember most. To fully hear and be heard: to grock it (Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein). This knowing is what hearing and being heard is all about: to have a fullness of understanding and to view the “gestalt,” or the picture in its entirety.

Recalling the conversation that sparked this blog title isn’t essential. The last comment, however, was the true gift: the gift that told me that for a brief moment in time, I mattered to this person. “You needed to be heard.” Those words became significant. That one sentence caused my soul to change. I had been given the gift of being heard and I knew it.

Hearing it Physically

Music is a major part of my life. I listen, I sing, and yet I don’t hear all of its richness due to a hearing loss. I can hear harmonies, but not the richness that is present. I miss what the composer intended that I hear. If I use headphones I can hear more, but not all of the richness that is present. Headphones can be a pain. To hear the richer and fuller sounds of the music, I must wear them. I must use them when I Skype. I must be tuned into the other person.

Recently I decided that I needed to revisit the hearing instrument market. I had worn one such gadget from the mid ’80s to the late ’90s. The gadget was big and not very effective. When I moved to Germany, I stopped wearing it. I would live without hearing because it felt better to not have that gargantuan thing in my right ear. I would also be rid of the background noises that were not wanted. Hearing was not pleasant.

Life changed and I needed to see if I could introduce a better quality of hearing pleasure into my daily experience. I found a center that does thorough screening for hearing loss and took that information to the techie who would do the actual work of finding the proper gadget for my sorry state of being. I didn’t feel very hopeful. My past experience was foremost in my mind.

The next week something wonderful happened: I heard a conversation and didn’t have to ask the person to repeat what was said. This was novel!!!! There were no raised voices. The experience was beautiful. Listening was effortless. I could once again hear the world around me.

I began to explore and found that I could have background music on and still hear!!!! I could listen as our three cats munched down their meals. Cats are noisy when they munch. I could listen to the sound of the water, which had always seemed so quiet. Once the initial adjustment to hearing old sounds in new ways passed, I was happy. I was excited about having something else switched on. That switch was triggered a week later.

That next Monday, my music-listening program went live. I heard music in a new way. I was ecstatic. I could hear notes that had gone missing!!! The guy told me about some technology that would enhance my hearing experience to even greater heights. I had him order the “Mini Tek.” NOW I WAS EXCITED! Oh, to hear the world in ways it was meant to be heard!

This gadget Mini Tek enables the user to have the sound transmitted directly to the hearing instrument. I would have a clear stream of beautiful noise!!!! I would be tuned in precisely!!!! I would hear my phone conversations while out and about and not have to ask the speaker to repeat themselves. Life was getting to be a bit of heaven on earth… UNTIL I found out that the insurance, which was paying for thousands of Euros of hearing pleasure, would not cover this 300 Euros of enhancement technology, and I was faced with having to return the box that I had only hours before opened so excitedly.

Returning that box to the Beter Horen (we’re now in Holland) was one of the most depressing days of my life. I asked my husband Jon to do it because I was too depressed, too sick in my heart of hearts, to take it back. So, for now the gift of really hearing music and out of the house phone conversations is not happening. For now it is hard, but not as hard, to hear. But this is just about physical hearing and not about the needful hearing.

The Gift Box

Fortunately, for the true hearing of the soul I don’t need a hearing instrument. I don’t need a Mini Tek; I need an open heart that is tuned to the correct frequency of another’s heart. The transmission will be clear. I will be shown what I am meant to see and hear. That is what the gift of being heard is all about.

The gift of being heard is about feeling the soul. We must not only hear the words of the heart, but we must see the landscape of the soul. Only with both true hearing and clear vision can we understand and grant the gift. Only then can we hope to understand the rich soul-scape that awaits us. Only then will we rejoice and be thankful that we unwrapped and shared the gift of being heard.

The Kitty Story

For the past 21 years there have been cats in my life. The first cat was Phred. Phred came with my current husband, so I got to know both of them before we married. Phred was wise, good, and a mighty hunter. Phred was an amazing boy who could sit in porcelain-kitty pose on the window box and just be the most precious, welcoming cat in the universe. This doesn’t describe him perfectly, but it is a start. For me, Phred was my son. Yes, a child. The one outstanding thing I must mention is his addiction to fishy-flavored flakes. IF we let him have some of those things, he would then go on a hunger strike and demand MORE. Never feed a cat something they can become addicted to!

Next came the princess, and her name was “’Roo,” as in kangaroo, due to her early kitty behavior. ’Roo, like Phred, lived on two continents, but had the distinction of living in three countries. The princess was an international kitty. ’Roo had the most amazing quality of not only being beautiful on the outside, but glowing from within. Quite frankly, I’ve never met another cat that I could say that about. ’Roo had so many good qualities and, like Phred, had a nice furry life.

When Phred departed in April of 1999, we decided to wait to see what happened before we became kitty parents yet again.

Barney came to us as a farm cat. He just wandered into our tiny house on the mountain and made friends with ’Roo, and by the end of the fall of 1999 we asked our landlord if we could take him in permanently. I’m glad we did. 

Barney moved with us from Southern Germany to Eastern Netherlands. We lived in an upstairs flat. There was a landing that had a narrow banister. Barney could hold his ground in that space, even when the fierce wind was present. He scared us when he did it. We could imagine him blowing away. Barney was stronger than any kitty we’ve known. Hubby and I would have to restrain him if medication was needed, and we lost more than one battle with him. Barney was also very territorial, squirting up a storm in my new blue kitchen. He almost lost his life several times—cuteness saved him.

Barney loved yogurt and had a “yogurt voice.” I think he had a sixth sense for when the stuff was to be served. His little furry life was cut short due to heat stroke during the heat wave of 2003. We were devastated. It was then that I said, “I don’t think I can do this again. My heart is being pulled and my feelings for our kitty children are so strong.” I was learning something powerful about what our cats could be in our lives.

’Roo and Barney had been true friends. They would adventure together, causing us to wake in the middle of the night as they ran from one end of the house to the other. Barney became the defender of the territory and ’Roo, while older, let him do so. She kept dominance in a laughable manner and when she disciplined “The Boy” for crossing her, it was more comical relief than anything else. Barney got the message and fell into line as a good submissive should. I remember the first night ’Roo had without Barney. A cat entered our yard as if to take up the place, and all holy hell broke out. We looked out to see our princess running the little twerp off HER land. She still had it out there. ’Roo held the dominant place her entire life, but you never would guessed it at first glance. Her sweet and gentle personality was misleading.

Cats are just like children. When you get to know them, you discover a treasure chest of delightful happiness. Taking time to share in their little lives is the real gift. And now back to the narrative…

Hubby and I let ’Roo do her thing for several months. I wasn’t ready for a new cat. Barney’s death was so unexpected and my heart was being pulled into new forms of growth.

At the end of 2003 I began to talk about getting a Russian Blue. I had always wanted a Blue. We started to research them in more detail. I also knew a couple with a Blue and knew her to be skittish. This would not do in a cat. It was then that we stumbled on to the Britt. This was it!!!! During the holiday season we connected with breeders. The wait was shorter than I had planned for and I wasn’t certain if I was ready to “mommie” another kitty yet. 

We met Penelope and her sister Tweety on a cold January day in 2004, and we both fell in love instantly. What was not to love? Penelope was perfect: designed just for me.

’Roo had had periods in her little furry life where she had been alone, but had matured and gained a sense of self. She was confident and ready to share her life. This was a healthy choice for ’Roo.

When we carried Penelope home with us for her first night away from her sister, we were concerned about how she and ’Roo would accept each other. We isolated Penelope and she cried. By midnight, ’Roo was upset and wanting to help, so we decided that we’d try it another way. We let ’Roo into Penelope’s space. They bonded instantly. ‘Roo mothered the child and Penelope grew into a sweet, beautiful kitty daughter. All was well! My days were filled with loving our two kitty daughters and life was happy with them. Both were adorable and wonderful to have.

Just as bringing a child into the world should take two agreed-upon votes, so should bringing a kitty child into the home. We had talked about a third kitty and, finally being in agreement, it was time for action.

Hubby was smitten by Tweety, Penelope’s sister. I called the breeder to let her know that when Tweety got pregnant, if there was a blue and white male, we wanted him. “Funny you should call,” was the reply, “because she is giving birth tonight.” And in the morning the call came: JRA Bob had arrived. And it was a good thing I had called because several others were also interested in Bob. We felt blessed that he would come to our home.

That year for Christmas, I gifted JRA Bob to my husband.

Now, we do know that Bob had already eaten through some hot computer cable. He tore up some curtains. He was a general troublemaker as a wee kitty. He was the ringleader who looked as innocent as could be, but there was always something brewing inside. And, this was while he was still with his mother!!!!! To this day, we are certain there was some brain damage: He never quite managed to grow up.

When we carried Bob home, we decided to let the boy out and allow the introductions to come naturally. There would be no isolating Bob. This time all holy hell broke out!!!! We thought Penelope would kill him. This was not good at all. Long story short, we put Penelope on Prozac. ’Roo, while irritated at times, was, for the most part, fine with the newbie.

Bob was the craziest, most curious, and all-around cat-like kitty to be had. There was never a dull moment with Bob. My kitty mommie hands were full!

When they were passing out kitty personalities, we figure Bob kept returning for yet another and another and the conversation had to have sounded something like this:

Bob: I want more personality.

Giver: We already gave you a personality and that is all you get. Now go away!!!

Bob: But this isn’t enough. I can’t be as happy, bouncy, lively, and beaming as I’m meant to be. I need more personality and I just know I’ll burst if I don’t have enough. I need so much MORE!!!! Please?

Giver: OK, JRA Bob.

Bob was right. Bob was loaded with love and affection beyond belief, and Bob was Gorgeous. “Beautiful,” in my mind, just doesn’t do him justice. Bob was the most beautiful of all of our cats and therefore he must have a different adjective. (I know males aren’t supposed to be gorgeous, but he was, and will always be our most gorgeous of kitties.)

We were forced to say our goodbyes to Bob in the last week of April of 2013. It was a sunny day and a day that was meant for Bob to be outside in the world. And we took him out, as we had done as part of our saying-goodbye ritual for Phred. Keeping him any longer would have been cruel. We miss him so much. There is a huge emptiness here that will never be replaced by another kitty. Bob was unique in the cosmos. I like to imagine a grand meadow where he can play and be with our other kitties. It’s a nice thought.

As I write this, Penelope has gone through many phases of progression after Bob. First, Penelope was alone and bored. She, too, missed the pest. (Her thoughts, not ours.) She faced being alone for the first time in her little furry life.

We hoped that she would discover a new self and become a new cat. Penelope is a cat’s cat. She is independent and does it all on her terms. She, too, is beautiful and sweet, and learned to become secure in her new environment.

She has shown us that she really needed to be an only kitty for a while. We have enjoyed her and hope to have many more years with her.

Our kitty tapestry has been filled with the rich warmth of individual cats who we will always cherish, and from whom we have learned so many lessons about life. Twenty-one years ago I did not understand the power that an animal could have to shape a human life and color it in beautiful ways. Each loss is real.

So goes the cycle of life and death. It enters, snatching souls of all types, human and animal. Those we love pass on and we are faced with the loneliness of not having them on a daily basis. Time and soul-searching can heal many things, but you can never go back.

I move forward and can only resolve to make the best kitty life possible for Penelope. 

In thinking about all of this, I must admit I believe that there is a time and a season for all to end as we know it. I believe that each of us creates a future based on possibility.

Because we knew that Bob was destined to live an unnaturally short life, I created a mosaic of him that hangs where we can see him and be reminded of just how beamy he was.

I began this piece in 2013. I thought it had a different focus. I kept it in my draft section not knowing what to do with it. I can now publish it because I know the ending. It has to do with mental health issues.

More and more, we as human beings are discovering the power of unconditional love with our pets. We are finding that they are sensitive to many powerful emotions we, as humans, display. I’ve seen this with Penelope. If I’m really feeling sick she will come and be my protector. 

I’ve seen this phenomenon with someone else in my life. Because of her dog, she is more engaged in daily life. While her depression is still present, she has a sweet, loving dog to help her calm herself.

Remember George? He has been affected by animals as well. I believe that it really does help his depression.

So, telling you about my kitties and who they are is a plug to remind you that cats and dogs can reach into souls that might not be reached with words.

Therapy for those who struggle with whatever-it-is-they-struggle-with can be made easier with an animal by your side.

Tonight Penelope will grace us with her presence and I hope that she will desire to snuggle up with me. I love her and the joy she brings to all who know her.

No More “I’m Sorrys”

My first real experience with loss was when my grandfather had to be hospitalized and then died after having a heart attack. It was the first funeral I attended. I wasn’t more than ten or eleven. I understood that he was really gone. We had family around and, as a child, I took it well.  

Death touched our family several times, and in several posts I’ve talked about how I was affected by the different deaths that took place in my young life up until my early 20s. Forty years later I realize how sheltered I have been from grief and its realities. You don’t see the real stuff when you are young—I didn’t. 

Several years ago, after observing how many people would respond to someone’s loss with “I’m so sorry,” I decided to use my Facebook page to conduct some nonscientific research. I asked people “Why do you say I’m so sorry?” and the response I got was “I don’t know what else to say.” This response saddened me.  

As I’ve journeyed through the loss of my husband, I have noticed some things in ways that I’d let slide before. One hundred and eighty-three words into this post, I’m going to talk about what I’ve noticed and what it can do to those who suffer from grief and loss. 

Death Is Out of the Home 

I now live in The Netherlands. One of the huge differences here vs. the USA is that it is still common after death for the body to be viewed in one’s home. This isn’t always possible, but it still happens in many situations. Having attended such a viewing, my first thought was In the home!? My next thought was that by being in the person’s home and being with the loved ones, one could relax in his or her own surroundings as friends came by to show their love. By the end of my time there, it felt like a great way to mourn the death of a guy who kept us on our toes. It was peaceful and joyous. There were no “I’m so sorrys” said. We spoke of him and shared quietly. The Dutch are able to do this well.  

My husband’s viewing was not in our home and it wasn’t even suggested that I hold it here. However, it was a wonderful experience. People who knew him came, and by the end of the evening, I was “high on really good chocolate.” Once again, the talk was honest and we laughed and I felt supported. 

For some time (until I said “Stop”), people I knew brought me meals and it was wonderful. Then I told them that I needed to cook for myself and everything stopped. As long as they were cooking for me, they knew what to do and say, but after that…

Death moved out of the home to someplace else.  Because of the trauma surrounding his death, I really didn’t pick up on what had happened in the way I might have. Slowly, people who didn’t know what to say, or do, moved or distanced themselves from me. They didn’t want to talk about Jon or hear me talk about Jon. The first year was hard, and over that year people drifted further away until by the end of the first year, I was more alone than I would have liked to have been.  

Death Reorganizes Your Address Book  

This is a fact, and it is something I’m coming to terms with as I live through year four of life without Jon. I think this is a complex issue. This is not just about knowing what to say, but also understanding how to kindle a solid relationship. I think we’re failing in this area.  

One of the things I learned from one of my aunts was the value of real friends. She had one real friend. She and Dot had been friends for… forever, and even though they were separated geographically, they were very much in each other’s lives. They went through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Dot’s children were a real part of things as well, and when my aunt and uncle celebrated 50 years of marriage, Dot’s kids came! Like a really good marriage, Dot and my aunt Lois really worked at friendship. “I’m so sorry” was not uttered in that relationship. When Dot was diagnosed with a serious illness, words of comfort were exchanged.  

I’ve often thought that maybe it was just a slower time. Maybe it has to do with the fact that you became friends with those in your immediate surroundings, and when they moved, you wrote or called them. Was there more social necessity to make relationships work so that they would last?  

Maybe it is none of the above, or all of the above, and I’m not wanting to say that since the world has “shrunk,” and distances are smaller, we aren’t valuing things in the same way as we once did. I don’t want to blame social media for the demise of friendship. But, I have to admit that social media has affected the way we, as a world, interact with one another.  

Yes, grief reorganizes your address book, and it does so because there are many people who don’t understand how to support such loss as death, divorce, illness, or other life events.  

I’ve posted about what to say and do in the category “What Do I Say.” Yet this issue still gnaws at me. Why? My first thoughts are that people react to grief and loss in the way they want to be treated when it happens to them. It is as if all logic and reality blow out the window, and instead of saying anything, people say and do nothing. I got particularly angry about this in RAW (The Suicide). Has our social IQ dropped that much? Have we, as a society, drifted from understanding empathy that much? Brené Brown says it well in this video.

I think we’ve lost some of our ability to empathize. Maybe it has to do with the growing need to state our individual pain while forgetting about the pain of others. Therapists are in the business of pain. What I hear when I listen is the deep pain of others not being completely heard by those they feel should be hearing them. This thought causes me to recall a conversation with my husband’s psychiatrist and his ending remark to me: “You needed to be heard.” And I did need to be heard! His comment to me reminded me that with all the hearing and caretaking I was doing, I needed listening to as well.  

As I look at hearing, and being heard, from the perspective of having or getting needs met, I can’t blame people for the lack of empathy. Here’s why: There are so many forms of grief and loss that to show proper empathy for all of them might not be possible.  

I don’t know what it is like to come out as LGBTQ. I don’t know what it is like to have a miscarriage. I don’t know what it is like to have a child show hate for a parent. What I do know is that deep pain hurts, and that I can show empathy for others by tapping into places that are not so pleasant within my own life experiences that contain things I can use to empathize with. I might not understand perfectly, but I can understand. Sometimes that means doing a great deal of listening and then asking questions that will deepen my understanding of someone’s experience. I’m not expected to know it all; I’m expected to know that I can ask and learn.  

When life was less expansive than it is now, we didn’t have the “experts” to tell people what was, and wasn’t, normal. The truth is that those thought of as “experts” now may, or may not, have known what to say. My aunt and her friend Dot had to rely heavily on empathy and questioning to really understand each other. They were present in ways that mattered because it meant something to both of them. So, maybe trauma as a whole rearranges address books because people think they have to know before they open their mouths and friendships are lost. Personally, I’d rather have someone say to me “I don’t know what to say and I’d like to say the right thing.” While this puts it back on me, it also opens up a pathway for me to say “Thank you” and “This is what I need.”  

In saying all of the above, I must admit that writing this post has been a thoughtful challenge. Here is why: In conversing with several people, I’ve discovered that we really have lost the skill of empathy. The “I’m sorry for your loss” remark really is the best they can do. People are overwhelmed with all of their own stuff, and the balancing act of trying to support another person when you don’t have the skills to do it well causes you to shut down. It may also have to do with loneliness in our Western society.  

Don’t hate me for saying the following because it is not something I wanted to say in this piece, but I’m finding that I have to say it: Social media has moved many people into a state of social detachment. What I mean by this is that people know how to react to a photo or meme, but they can’t, and don’t really have the skills, to thoughtfully react to substance in long form. Knowing this may mean that right now, as you read this, you may want to engage a wee bit more than the average. You aren’t looking just to “get in and get out,” and want to say you have really connected with a thought or an idea. Think about your own social media pages; what gets the response from you? 

Facebook marketers tell you to use photos and limit words. Why? They’ve dumbed down for a faster pace. They’ve dumbed it down because people aren’t reading thoroughly.  

Gaining Empathy Skills

In most healthy family situations, it begins at a very young age: “It’s mine” is followed by a parent saying “You must share.” Slowly, the young child learns the social graces that allow for becoming friends. By four years of age, a child has enough insight to answer the question “Do you like it when…?” By the time a child enters school, the building blocks are laid for social connection, and those kids who have learned rudimentary skills in the first years of their tiny lives are ready to test their newfound skills on the larger stage. As the child grows into adolescence, the skills of childhood are put to the test as relationships deepen, friendships broaden, and exploration expands. By the time the 18-year-old enters the adult world, the lesson is done but the learning is just beginning.  

Some of my most valuable learning came about from moving out of my parents’ home at 18 and going away to school in another city. On my own, I screwed up some relationships, but also had successful ones. I came to understand things as an adult that being under my parents’ roof could never have taught me. It was hard! When I returned to my hometown in late 1990, I’d had some disastrous and some good experiences. I’d built up some life experiences that would allow me to understand deeper feelings and understand in a credible fashion: things that I could use to empathize with others.  

I share all of this to tell you: You get the skills by experiencing life. You gain empathy by blowing it, learning from it, and using the learning you acquire to reach out to others.  

You discover empathy by finding a similar feeling or experience within yourself. You don’t share the experience, but rather you recognize the power of this experience and quietly listen in order to understand. You might have “been there, done that, and have the T-shirt,” but in this case you only mentally put that T-shirt on and remember how hard it was to get through the experience so you can empathize. It is then that the questions come and the understanding and connection follow. Now two people understand, by more than words, the experience that one is having. Empathy is a marvelous thing. No more empty “I’m so sorrys.”

The Meaning of Enough

How many of us think about what we could do with more money? How many of us understand its true value? Whether we squander, or spend lavishly, everyone gives thought to having more stuff that makes it possible to live.

The fact is that having a sufficient amount of funds for meeting life’s needs can provide each of us with the feeling of being safe and secure. Having a surplus of funds can provide us with more options. The more wise options each of us has, the more choices we can make to free us up to pursue better solutions for the challenges we face in life.

I’ve come to rethink how I feel about the paper we call money. I now think in terms of options rather than wealth. What options do I need to provide a good life? What are the consequences of having any of these particular options? What is the meaning of having enough? It wasn’t always this way. My thoughts and feelings about money have been an ongoing journey.

I’ve learned a lot from living and working. The process of returning to work as a self-employed therapist has caused me to ask myself about money, what I need to provide for my family, and what I would like to do with the money I earn. So, what are my needs, the needs of my family, and the needs of my business?

One of the most important values I have is that of being able to assist others less fortunate than myself. This can only happen when the needs of my family are sufficiently met. It means having enough for not only our family’s needs, but having enough to fulfill a dream, or two. Having enough is about being realistic and feeling good about the things you have. So for me, it means being able to give back.

So, in practical terms, what is enough? Being able to buy what I want at the grocery store. Providing new clothing for my family when they need new things to wear is also important to me. Saving for retirement and taking a vacation to relax, and then returning to work refreshed. After that, it means being able to save and give assistance by offering to buy groceries or replace someone’s worn shoes. It means doing good things for others. It means giving someone who is starting out in business my support. It means that I want to do nice things for my husband without him knowing about them.

Having enough also means that you don’t waste what you have. There is something about meeting your needs and not overconsuming; that is just good for the world we live in. When you live within your means and use only what you need, you have less trash, less stuff to store, and less cleaning to do. I’m not professing to be a minimalist because I’m not such a person. But, since our family has cut back on consumables, our trash isn’t as full and our house is less burdened with excess.

I will confess to wanting more kitchen space so that I can buy some cool kitchen gadgets. We like cool gadgets and we like to cook. So, it also follows that we like to eat good food. It is all about determining what “enough” is, and living that way in a realistic and calm manner.

One of the things I’ve learned from living here in Europe is that Europeans like nice stuff. They have less stuff, but what they own is nice. Most people here don’t go into debt; they pay cash for what they own. Most will have enough to retire on and are satisfied. Being here in the Netherlands has taught me to rethink my thinking. It has been a lesson worth experiencing and learning.

As I think about who I am now, versus who I was when I came to Europe to live, I can see how being here has affected me in a positive manner. It has changed me for the better and it has taught me valuable lessons that I could not have learned by remaining in the US.

Insight is a great gift that each of us can provide to ourselves. Insight comes when you look in the mirror and notice that the face staring back at you has taught you a valuable lesson, and one that you would not trade because you are better off for knowing it. Insight can heal the pain that comes from making lousy decisions. Insight is like a plate of your favorite comfort food. When you have it, you want to enjoy it and you want more of it.

As I move on with life, having enough for our family’s needs is good enough. Evaluating what enough is was a challenge that has brought me inner peace. Understanding what enough is frees me to do what I need to do in my life. Having enough means that you can live your life and not chase a false dream.

No Regrets—Just Lessons Learned

*Note: This is another post from the vault that was written when my husband was still living. Enjoy!  

I found this in a mass mail that a friend sent out. It made me giggle. I giggled and thought, RIGHT. This kid gets it. Do I?

“A little boy was overheard praying: ‘Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am.’”

My thought: this kid is comfortable in himself. He is having a good time with life. The good and the bad are all a part of it.

I hope that the fictional boy will keep this attitude in life. I hope he will love himself and others and bring joy to everyone he meets. I hope he’ll pull pranks, tease, and get teased. I hope he’ll love his pet tortoise. As he learns to be kind and compassionate to others, he’ll earn friends. He will grow into a healthy adult who will pass these same traits on to others.

Being able to know that you are fine just the way you are is a gift. It is a gift provided by loving parents who care enough about a child to foster a proper self-image from the beginning. This child is not indulged, but rather encouraged to do his or her best in everything. She is praised for accomplishing things, and supported to get back up and try again when she fails at something. Like our fictional boy, she knows that “I am having a real good time like I am.”

A healthy child learns to earn the privileges he or she deserves. She learns to wait for the toy that she wants, and earns the prize honestly. And along the way, she comes to understand that she is unique, but not “special” within her world. She learns that success is won and failure is a lesson to be learned from.

Recently, a friend sent me one of those captioned pictures. You know, the kind that floats around the Internet. This one had an interesting caption and I took the time to respond to it.

The subject matter of the photo was having regrets. Throughout my life I have made mistakes and felt sorrow over decisions that could have carried me down a different path. I am “me” because I’ve made the choices I’ve made. I’ve learned the good and the bad lessons from those choices. I own my choices. Ownership of the outcome means that I try to live by not asking “WHAT IF?” or thinking “IF ONLY.” Once it’s done, you can’t take it back.

My first lesson from life in these matters came when I was 18 and headed off to school in another state. My mother and I were present when my younger sister died of a heart attack. There was a part of me that wanted to cancel my life and stay home. That wasn’t to be, and I moved on to the next phase of my life: learning on a larger scale.

Because of the choice I made to move forward, I made friends that I would have never made. I grew up and discovered that my heart could get broken, heal, and, yes—I could even fall in love again. I learned not only to love, but to give, in new ways. Had I stayed home and attended school locally, the lessons would have been different. Leaving home caused me to want different things from life. That is what should happen because growth requires change.

As I write this from the vantage point of age, and hopefully, more wisdom, I am thankful for the roads I have walked. Sometimes I speculate about the roads that weren’t traveled. And I think back to that fictional little boy—you know, the one that is just fine the way he is—and I think that I’m fine having walked down the paths I’ve taken. I’m glad I’ve learned, hurt, healed, and grown. No real regrets—just lots of lessons to learn from.

Radical Compassion

In 1958 there was a pandemic, and my mother happened to be pregnant with me. It was only a slight case; she didn’t even know she’d had rubella until after the fact. It was during an era when medical abortions were done if the parents and the doctors were willing to do so. My mother told me that they didn’t ask, so the docs didn’t offer. Nature took over and produced a child who had been conceived to be healthy, but who became injured while still in the womb. That is what nature does.

In talking with my mother about this issue, she once told me that she could understand both sides of the argument and why a woman would choose one or the other. From her I learned that the issue around the health of an unborn child, or the termination of that pregnancy, is not an easy, cut-and-dried process. The choice to raise a disabled child came with a great deal of pain and learning, as well as tears and sorrows on all sides. Society blames and doesn’t help. My mother learned radical acceptance and radical compassion. I watched, I listened, and I learned from her.

In the past month, I have sat and watched as so many have blamed gun owners, children, the shooter, the NRA lobby, and Congress for the travesty of yet more dead kids. I hurt for the families and friends who have lost children. I am angry that people are using an act of violence to force a political solution, as well as a mental health solution, to this situation. There is enough greed and corruption to go around! There is more than enough blame that is being spread to the innocent. I want to scream “NO! STOP IT!”

I do support change. I’d like to see assault rifles, code red drills, bullying, blaming, and greed to be taken off the streets. I’d like to see respect and support become common. I’d like to see corporations become responsible for what they are putting on the streets. I‘d like to see violence in video games and films done away with. I’d like to see everyone have access to good mental health care and not just a set number of visits per year. I’d like to see education and understanding for all.

I’d like to see scientists search for effective medication that could reach into the abyss of a shooter’s mind and allow that person to be healed with both medication and talk therapy. It is dark in that mind. It is lonely in that mind. To be able to befriend such a person would be rare. Why? Because what such a person thinks is so black, so far from the norm, so chaotic that most professionals can’t—or won’t—even go there. I’ll venture to speculate that the person owning the thoughts is just as terrified of going there. What I’m talking about is a radical compassion for others.

Few have been able to show such compassion because few are the Buddha, Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ, or others. To be part of that universalizing place takes a lifetime of journeying. However, each of us is capable of listening with love and compassion. You do it as a child when you show sorrow for your friend’s pet that passed on. You do it when you spend time listening to a friend sharing grief. You do it in a darkened theater when you let out the buried pain that you can’t show for yourself or someone else, but can show for the character in a film. You do it when your best friend tells you that they are coming out, and your love for them takes you to new places of joy and acceptance for who they are. You do it when you ask “Why?” and come away with only more questions, but a determination to find one solution and you join a cause. In joining, you move to radical compassion, when you sit down in a room and listen to the others who believe differently than you do. You do it when you realize that “they” care just as much as you do. You do it when you take a hand and find a way to work together for peaceful solutions.

I saw it in my mother as she was faced with how society treated her two disabled daughters. I saw it in her heart when she wept and yet didn’t lash out at others for the treatment that came to her children because other parents didn’t teach the same values of love and acceptance.

I want to see more kids step up and take responsibility for the things they can do. I want to see those of us who are older applaud the courage that we are witnessing and show love and compassion for the process they are initiating. I’d like to see each of us stop and think about the words we speak and the actions we take in our daily lives, and how they might affect others. I want to be on the path of radical compassion with my fellow human beings. Right now it feels sparsely traveled. I think back to my mother, and if I can do what she was able to do, I’ll be doing well. Join me on the journey. It isn’t an easy journey, but my mom thought it was worth doing, and so do I.

Sneakiness Is Happiness

Today has been very hot. I like the heat because it means that the sun is out and the sky is blue. The only bad thing about the heat is that sticky, humid feeling. Today I had to be out in the heat and it was wonderful!!!!

Why? Well, it was because of all the nice things that happened while I was out and about and doing the many things that I had to get done. I was out alone with Myrtle Mae. Myrtle Mae is a good sidekick. “She” keeps me safe from others. I’ve also noticed that people are really nice to me when I’m buzzing around with my stick. (Myrtle Mae is featured in stick magic.)

There are so many things that are different about being a person with low vision. Some things are just more complicated and time consuming than they are for a fully sighted soul. People being nice to me made me feel OK about walking around in the heat. So to balance my happiness, I find myself listening to one of the most pessimistic guys of rock: Don Henley. I like Don.

There were things to do, like the veggie run and the bank. I like getting this stuff done—but there was also laundry to do before I could do the veggie run.

I tell you all of this because the man did something wonderful for me. He can be sneaky in phases because my sight just isn’t good enough to see what is going on in my tiny room that I use as an office. I didn’t see the first phase at all.

My office is filled with very “Gail”-type things, two of which are parasols that are mounted into the corners of the ceiling. Once they were up I thought, Wouldn’t it be cool to backlight them? I haven’t thought about it for some time. He has.

While I was out and about, he got to work and gave me a very beautiful surprise to come home to. Yup, he backlit my parasols!!! So, even though it is hot out there and in here, I’ve got the tiny lights on. I couldn’t resist as it is so pretty to have the soft light around me.

Being nice pays off not because it has to—it just does. There is something about generosity that is contagious. So, when I’m out and about, I smile, and others say hello to me. Why?

I think that is because we, as humans, crave positivity in ways that will never be fully understood. I, for one, have no desire to study this, as it takes some of the magic out of the process. I will studiously avoid the research on the topic. Some things are better enjoyed and left alone.

I think I’ll go find someplace cool to enjoy the evening. I also must switch to something other than Don Henley. Before I do—remember to smile and see what you get in return.

Thanks, but Not This Gift

Late Wednesday I asked Jon: “If you could give me a gift, any gift, what would it be?” I wasn’t ready for the reply.

He told me he’d give me a healthy body. He told me he would want to take away all my discomfort and give me health, and I was stunned silent. Two days later and I’m still stunned.

I’ve had this petite, not-quite-a-gem of a body for 56 years now, and while I don’t appreciate its lack of functionality at times, I still love being petite. It is who I am. I love my blue eyes and my once-curly hair. I don’t like the PXE (Pseudoxanthoma Elasticum) that has made life hard. No, I don’t like that at all.

I’ve made the comment before that if I could see normally, I’d want to play tennis. That would be first on my list of items to do. That is just a thought and a desire, but when I think of things in terms of my entire life changing, I have cause to rethink. Doesn’t everyone want health?

About two weeks ago, my family found out my younger brother might be facing some serious heart surgery. He, like me this past year, had to come to terms with his own mortality. It changes you and causes you to rethink who you are and what you do with your life. Things that didn’t seem needful take on a new view. In this past year, the things that really matter to me have changed.

As much as I would like health, I’m going to decline the gift. It isn’t that I’m not moved by the thought; it is that it would change some things. It makes me think of one of the most powerful “Generation” episodes of Star Trek, and the lesson that it teaches.

In the episode, Jean-Luc has yet another encounter with Q. He comes to understand that the lives we live are due to the choices we make. We walk the paths we walk because of what we either do, or fail to do. I may not like the hassles that my lack of a healthy, functioning body brings to my life, but without it I lack the knowledge and power that its lessons have taught me.

Instead of pontificating on all the lessons I’ve learned (and I could do just that ), I’d like to ask you each some questions: Would you change your life? Would you alter it so radically that the lessons you have learned now would change? Who would you be if you weren’t this current “you?” How does thinking about this alternative “you” change who you are going forward? Why would you make the changes? What would your reasoning be?

The offer of Jon’s gift has made me look at myself and accept that I’m OK with the mess of my disability. I’m more accepting of it than I thought I was. I like me. I may not always be happy with life, but I like my life lessons and am glad I’ve had them to shape who I am.

I will return to the gift of health. It is a good thing to ponder and revisit because it has made me think about my life in new and better ways.

In asking myself the question, I found another gift. This gift is that I like being Gail. I like some things about being who I am with my own disabilities that I didn’t think I was happy with. Thanks, Jon.

Dear Parental Units

Dear Parental Units,

It seems that I’m the recipient of an opening in the space-time continuum, and being as I’m a very brainy baby, I’m going to take advantage of it. I don’t know how long I’ll have to say all of this, so here goes something!

I just popped out and I know you are so glad that the pregnancy is over, that you are through labor and delivery, and that I have ten fingers and ten toes. My head looks normal and I’m breathing and crying. All is well (for now). Enjoy the next six weeks because after that, you all are going to enter a world that you don’t know you are unprepared for. Good luck—we’re all going to need it.

Six weeks from now, Mom, you are going to decide to take me to the pediatrician because my eyes don’t look right. I’m not tracking stuff, and you and Daddy are concerned. On that day, you are going to get a bucket of news you are not ready for. I’d have liked for both of you to go instead of just Mom. You see, if you both hear the news together it will be better that way. So many times mommies have to hear difficult news without daddies being present, and that isn’t right. I can tell you that getting your kid diagnosed with disabilities is bad enough, but often it is the mother who hears it first, on her own. Even though the woman (yes, in 1959 you won the doctor jackpot and got a woman) is going to spend time with you, remind you that this is not your doing, that you had a very mild case of rubella and nature happens, and she’s going to try to help you deal with it all in one day, I’ll tell you now that her good intentions won’t do the trick. Don’t feel bad. Doctors still don’t get it, and in time I’ll come to have friends who are doctors and they’ll validate this fact. Talk about it and help others to go through what you have been through. Sharing will be good for you and others.

So, take me home and get that home nurse and learn and enjoy having me. Let me explore, and let me be the happy soul I am. Let me grow up in the loving secure environment you both want to provide for me.

I Can Feel That I’m Getting Older.

Now, growing up is tricky. You are going to want to shelter me from bullies, failure, and all things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately, you can’t. You are going to want to hide when I come home from school crying because of the bullies. I need you to put your arms around me and let me know that you love me, and when I shed tears, cry with me so that I know it is OK and that you hurt with me. That would be the best!!! But the era you are raising me in will teach you differently, and you will hide the pain you feel. I’ll grow up and gain insight into this, and it will be alright.

While I’m on the subject of things that hurt: Don’t trust caregivers. I know that in the 1960s you won’t think that your daughter can be harmed by any form of abuse. The disabled are hurt by angry people and sometimes well-intentioned do-gooders who should not be allowed to work anywhere near them. I’ll be hurt, but I’ll get through this as well. All three of us are victims of having had this happen to me. You didn’t know, so don’t feel guilty over not knowing. When you do find out it will be because the time is right and I will heal from past pains.

I need to tell you that you began to do some good things for me in the late ’60s and early ’70s. You need to pursue those things even more and give me the jump-start on my career planning, and help me to see that I can reach my dreams. Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean I can’t achieve what I want. I know my limits and I don’t need society putting false limits on me.

I’m Feeling Even Older as I Write This.

Dad, you and I are going to turn out to have passions in the same areas. Social injustice is something we will both come to understand. I’m glad that you will work with, and respect, women. I’m glad that you will be open to that.

Mom, you are going to wind up raising two daughters who have health issues. It is going to change our family. I’m glad you will have Joyce because she’ll be things I’m not. She’ll be easier to raise—trust me on this one. We will both cause you and Dad to grow beyond what you ever thought you’d have to do, but in the end it will be worth it.

As I grow up, I’m going to want to do it all by myself. I’m going to want to be just like the other kids. This is going to be hard on you, Mom, especially because you and Dad decided you’d stay at home with the kids while we were growing up. He won’t be home as much as you might like for him to be, but I know that you will tell him everything and he’ll be in the loop. But, back to the being like the other kids. This is something that many disabled kids feel, so try to understand and let me do it myself unless I ask for help. Let me struggle some and then gently offer, even if I make a stink. I’ll understand when I’m older and all grown up.

You should put me into Girl Scouts. Give me outlets that will help me to make friends and to achieve goals. This would also help society learn that the disabled CAN participate. This is very important for girls!!!! This is something you won’t think of doing, but I wish you would. I can tell you this because it is something you would think of if I had been born at a later time.

Help me discover who I am as a young girl so that I can grow to be a strong woman. Putting me in dance and swimming lessons is going to help me to become more coordinated. It is also going to fill my intense need for being in and near the water. I’ll learn from these, and even though the dance will be hard, it will plant some seeds.

I’m going to have insight into what I need. Listen to me because others won’t, and as you support me you can know that I appreciate the fact that you value who I am. I’m going to raise a wee bit of hell along the way and you two won’t understand it, but you will accept it and love me.

When I reach my teen years I’m going to struggle with who I am becoming as a woman. Part of this is normal for all teenagers, but there are special issues that are associated with disability. How I wish someone would author a book about this stuff so you both could read it! Unfortunately, there won’t be a book. Maybe in time I’ll write that book, or maybe someone will beat me to it.

Early on in life you are going to turn me on to books and I’ll devour them. I thank you now for this gift. Reading and learning will be one of my great joys. It will allow me to stand equal with anyone.

Oh, Something Is Happening

Mom and Dad, I’m going to thank you, now, for all the time you will give to me. Driving me when I can’t drive, reading to me when my eyes just can’t see straight, and staying with me when I freak out because the depth of things is hard for me to see. The times when you have held my hand and helped me navigate going down to rivers, and other hard-to-get-to places, will be appreciated. I’m going to thank you for trying to keep the family in “normal” mode and doing things that my siblings enjoy. They will need that.

Night Walk and Maira

I guess you could call today “Maira Eve,” and as I have been thinking about my life and events that have led to this very day, I thought I’d update the original posting. This post tells of how I came to understand that I needed to have a dog.

For the past four years I have referred to Maira as “Eyelette,” as all things living need a name. I’ve even had a tiny transitional object to pull out of a drawer or set upon a desktop when things seemed grim. Right now it just seems surreal. This REALLY is happening!!

It has been a long journey, and tomorrow at 0930 I will be at KNGF to begin my two-week intensive work of becoming a partner with Maira. What is in store for me? I don’t fully understand at this moment. I am packing my bag and will find out in the morning. So now for those who will walk with me and remember that night of several years past…

Night Walking

Late this last November, I found myself waiting for my husband; we were to meet at the shopping area. My iPhone went dead and I was scared. It was dark and windy, and I knew I’d have trouble walking anywhere alone. I almost left the stairs, where I was sitting in hopes that he’d look for me there, to go look for our car. I should have known that the car was there—where it always was. But fear kept me on the stairs. Had I left, I’d have found the car—and safety. I was to discover that I had been doing a dangerous dance on a rooftop with a skylight.

I finally decided to walk to get to the bus. I was scared. The thing about being half blind (or so I thought) is that bumps in the sidewalk aren’t your friends. Bumps can really hurt you. So I walked in the street, but then the streets here in Europe can be bumpy as well. The streets everywhere are bumpy. It just doesn’t pay to try to stay safe or sane when you can’t see the road. I was walking SCARED. In my mind I was dancing on a skylight and trying to calm myself and telling myself that I would be just fine. I was scared because about ten years ago some nut with night blindness hit me and I fractured my L1. I was scared for some good reasons. In feeling the fear, I realized that my vision was far worse than I had ever admitted to myself.

Normally, husband is my “Seeing Eye Hubby,” and I depend on him. But hubby was in some unknown place and I was scared. I was all alone, and there was no one to help guide me. I made it to the bus, which was a good ten minutes’ walk. Then I had to face the walk home, which in many ways was even more terrifying. You know you are severely low vision when you have a dark street with a dim light and you think that you know the road but don’t know where the bumps are. All at once I realized that I didn’t know the road at all. I had to make a decision: walk fast or walk slow? I just walked. All I wanted was a phone and a warm house. More than that, though: I didn’t want to fall on my face.

After what seemed like a horrible forever, I could see the house and then the car and the door. I crashed through the metaphorical skylight. The tears and mixed emotions exploded within a safe house. I was grateful that I had made it home. Jon, who was upset and concerned, came to me. At that moment I realized that I would never feel as safe as I once had before. That crash was just the first.

Life can be a terrifying dance routine with a choreographer gone mad. That is when you slam through the skylight. This is when your soul sinks and you discover that you are frail. Then, and only then, can you realize that you have been dancing on a rooftop with a skylight.

In the next days I began the search for the “doggie” school. After a week of looking, I knew that I needed to approach KNGF. I made the call. The darkness has served as a reminder that I am not safe. The naive woman who was dancing on a skylight is no more.

Today

Jon is downstairs cooking dinner and I am wondering what will unfold next. As I look back over the past few years, it has been quite a ride. The Loo Erf, the beginnings of a new private practice. It will be a new dawn in the morning. I can’t wait!!!!

A Sad Update

I am going to post this to my blog because it will reach more people faster.

On Monday, 23 June, I went off to the KNGF with high hopes. Maira is a great dog, but she will not be mine. On Thursday the 26th, I was admitted to the UMC-Utrecht neurology unit. The short story is that after all of the time I spent planning, I can’t have a dog.

I am totally bummed and depressed and feel like a piece of my world got yanked out of my life. It did. But, I will move on. For now, it is important that I accept and take the time to cry tears of sadness.

I am thankful for some great doctors. I am thankful that I am alive, and that with care, I can stay that way. I will say more later. For now I am just trying to enjoy my first complete day home from “the big house,” as Jon and I call it.

With much thanks for support,

Gail

The Rose Room

As some of my readers know, I’ve just painted and will be painting the rest of the space soon. There was one room that has gone untouched. It is a beautiful rose color, and in it there are many treasures. It is the Room of All Things Gail.

On the walls there are works of art, and each piece has a loving history.

There is a painting that my aunt Ruth did way back when that I treasure. I love it because she let me have it, knowing how much it meant to me. There is the counted cross-stitch that my friend Leann labored to create for me. It is beautiful, and I cherish it because she performed a labor of love when she stitched it.

Along with that, my older sister Beth has a place of honor with the picture that has been with me since childhood. It is a Gail version of The Princess and the Pea. She put me in a blue dress on top of many mattresses. Each mattress is a different color and design. I love this so much and someday it will go to one of her daughters.

Hanging in the Room, and moved from the bedroom, is another counted cross-stitch. My sister-in-law Peg made this for our wedding. It, too, was done with love. Shared love is the only requirement to be placed in this Room.

I also have two stained-glass pieces of art that my mother-in-law Mary made. I am so thankful to have them.

Hanging in another place of honor is the wedding bouquet that my three sisters-in-law Peg, Bev, and Rebecca created for me.

There are two parasols that Jon hung up. I’ve mentioned in “Sneakiness is Happiness” that he backlit them for me. That is a day I will remember forever. Oh, the love that filled the space that day!

The Room holds objects that span the years of my life and are sacred to me. It holds something from a friend who I came to know in the last five years of my life. That friendship has given me many gifts of thought and hope. Thank you, Betty. The Room is my place of healing and restoration. I can sit quietly, get ready for my day, and read in that room.

In some ways the Room has existed for a few years, but in other ways the Room is new. The Room in its present form emerged into its new role in my life over the late summer and early fall. It started with knowing that I wanted to place a new piece of furniture in the Room, and as I envisioned where it would go and how it would feel in the Room, The Room grew in purpose and my understanding of the space began to change. What I had used as an office during Jon’s life would be no more. My office was to move to the other side of the house where the sunlight can stream into it and I can see out into a larger world.

This Room called Gail is a place of healing and hope. This is where my heart is found, where the healing is strongest, and where, when I enter, I find the most peace.

For those of you who read “Raw” or listened to the podcast (Parts 1, 2, and 3) that I posted late in 2017, my healing journey has been both traumatic, challenging, amazing, and in some ways even peaceful. I suppose that it has been a combination of watchfulness, the love and caring of others, and the understanding that this type of pain and hurt only dissipate when faced head-on. It is my tiny sanctuary, however, that allows me to find what I most need in my heart.

It is the realization that I can say a loving goodbye to someone I have loved deeply. He is not in pain now. It is also an acceptance that I can hold on to his memory in new ways.

The creation of this space has done its secret healing and holds a place in my soul that I didn’t understand until I let go to find it.

I don’t think that there is any single or correct way to heal from something like this. I think that the best healing comes from following your heart and soul and listening to your gut. Healing involves talking and finding a supportive listener. For the listener, you need to choose wisely. Find someone who you feel a bond with, someone who respects you, and who you respect. If there is not such a person in your life, then find a good therapist who understands both grief and the loss involved with a completed suicide.

Healing is about recognizing that you will have really good days, really bad days, happy days, and days of hopelessness. Healing is about allowing the depression that will come because of the death that has entered into your life. Sit with the depression for a time, and if it doesn’t fade, seek professional help. Healing is about understanding that the pain will diminish and calm. Healing is about loving yourself. It is about seeing yourself in the mirror as “enough”: no more and no less than “enough.”

Healing takes strength and courage. It is your own unique journey.

As I spend time in this healing space, I’m discovering its complete power. It is the power of the lit candle in the darkness. It is the homing beacon that steadies me. It is that place that tells me that I’m loved, both by myself and by many others who I both know personally and who I only know because of the Internet.

To walk through the process of healing is also to be able to look out the window on a grey day and see the sun that the clouds hide. It is a knowing that you and only you can fully understand. It comes from traveling through it and stumbling along the way. It happens when you stand up once more and say “AGAIN!” You are never beyond, but you have moved on.

Forward movement takes on many forms. Sometimes it is a return to the old haunts, and other times it is the unexpected and unfamiliar that call to the soul. In many ways, the Room of All Things Gail was totally unexpected to me. It was a feeling that I had to create a place of sanctuary.

As I write this, I am in my new, blue office space surrounded by books, my sand tray collection, and hope. This space is one I’ve claimed as mine. As I look out of the window, I see the stormy skies closing in; I see the other homes in the area. Most of all, I see LIFE. It is good. It is peaceful and this is my space now. This is the room where he wrote the notes. This is the room where he spent so many hours. And yet, this is not “that room” any longer. The painter came one November day and covered the rich green walls with my beautiful blue color. The painter took nothing away but what had to go. It doesn’t hurt like it did a year ago. This is a place I come to work and to enable the healing of others. This room also holds some treasures.

While blue is the color of my soul, it has not been the color of my deepest healing. That has been rose. That Room is just a few steps away from where I now sit working on this, and I shall go there to feel the warmth of the sanctuary: the Room of All Things Gail.

As I sit here, I realize that I could not have created this lovely space without the Room of All Things Gail. It was the power of healing that let me say goodbye to what had been, and greet anew what was to be. It was the power in that Room of Rose that set me on a journey to claim the space I’m now working on. It was the realization while sitting in that space that I could, and should, listen to my heart and follow my desires to create what I wanted for myself. Thank you, Rose Room. I think I’ll go there now to pause, give thanks, and continue the journey.

Navigation

River pilots have been a mainstay of the great rivers of the world, and in the U.S. they taught many how to navigate dangerous places and waters. I’ve used this analogy in closed groups, and am now choosing to use it here in this space. I hope the message is one of hope. This is an imaginary conversation.

The master river pilot and I sit in the boat eating bread and cheese, drinking the cold water of the river we’ve been on. The pilot is silent and waiting for me, the student, to comment.

“Devastation and damage is there. That is what I see.”

“Is that all?”

I slice off more cheese and bread and drink the water.

“No, I see triumph and wisdom.” We turn back to view what was navigated, and we both sit in silence, thinking over the trip that has placed the boat in its current location.

WHOA! We both survey the damage, crazy as it is, and we embrace. I’m sobbing in joy and gratitude. I stammer an “I could not have done this alone,” and take the pilot’s hand. “You didn’t tell me how beautiful it would be, and I didn’t think I could see it this way. This river is magnificent! And so is the damage!” Yes, in my fresh realization I discover that the damage I have navigated has its own beauty.

We can see it all! The mountain and the sacred space. We can see the dark, creepy forests and the valleys that held spaces of peace. I wonder if the people that were there are still present, or if they have also left for new destinations. I notice a city and inhabitants exploring its environs; they are being told to get on the newer, more elaborate boat that has been brought to this point in time. I knew it was time for a new boat, and a new journey. I understood the pilot would not be as active this trip, but that if I asked for help and assistance, I would have it. I had grown much, and it was time to test my new strength against the currents on my own.

I remember the terror of boarding a tiny, dilapidated boat, feeling as if it would get me nowhere, and preparing to sink as I went out on the water. But I remember thinking that if I had to be on the water in this craft, I’d better do my best to save or repair it. And that is how the journey began. I remember beaching the craft and walking inland to a forest that looked dark and threatening. I sat on a rock and cried because I knew I had to go into that place and I was alone and fearful of journeying into the darkness. I wasn’t afraid of what I would find, but I was uncertain of navigating in the darkness. As I sat there, I heard the tinkle of bracelets and earrings. It was a gypsy lady! She was saucy and vibrant and said that she’d been in that particular forest in the past and would be glad to serve as a guide. Together we reached a meadow of great beauty where the gypsy helped me locate a magnificent chrysalis that was just about to hatch, and as we watched it, the most beautiful butterfly emerged. It was the soul of the woman who had gone into the forest!

“This is yours and it will be with you forever.” The memories come back and the memory of the bond between the two of us floods my mind. The butterfly has remained nearby as the journey has unfolded. It holds magnificent strength! I know now that I have been molded by this soaring creature of such beauty, and I still wonder why I have not captured its deeper essence.

In wondering about this, the butterfly responds to my heart:“You have! You have been so busy on the journey that you’ve failed to look in the mirror! All you see is the damage! You know the beauty is there, but have you really claimed it for yourself? You are aware of triumph and wisdom, but are you aware of them residing in you? Don’t you remember when I broke free? Don’t you remember how I soared? Do you think that was only the beauty of my wings? You doubted what I gave you, but I’ve been near you all of this time. I am you, in pureness! Take a fresh look at me!”

I return to the boat and realize I’m crying. I gasp for breath and try to calm myself.

The master looks at me, the student of the river, and echoes the butterfly: “Your butterfly joined you so long ago that I think you have forgotten her full power. You have held her close and soared, and at other times sunk into deep despair. She never left you, and when times required her to, she reached down and pulled you up to travel on the river another day. I sent the gypsy lady to you when you needed a primer that would serve you well and prove to you that you could do this work of Life.”

I sit speechless. What words can I use to respond to this? I don’t have words—only a realization that truth has been spoken.

“When I asked you what you saw, you spoke of the worst first. You have done this type of thinking for so long that it has become primary to your functioning, and yet when you stand tall and survey the surroundings, you also speak to the triumph, and finally, the wisdom that you have gained.”

The master teacher and navigator has me focus on the rapids that I so recently transited.

“Look! What is there?”

“Only triumph. I don’t see anything else. But you were there with me, guiding me through the rocks, and when the boat began to take on water you stood and watched as I bailed myself out.”

“I only did that to teach you to trust me as you never have trusted me before. I knew that in your heart you wanted to learn it for yourself. You have learned this part of the river well. Well enough to guide others. Look again and learn from the journey you have been on. You are not that scared, younger woman of so long ago. Look at your hands. Feel your strengths.”

Once again the truth is spoken to my heart.

In the past two years, the journey has taken me to many places on the river. It has been a transit and journey of a new type. Leaving the old and finding the new, only to discover that the old has served in ways I never felt it could.

The boat I am in now is simpler, yet sleek and modern. The guides who have served to enable me to navigate the rough stretches have come and gone. Each has taught me new things. Each guide has specialized in a very particular portion of the river. But the pilot who began the journey with me has remained.

As I think back over the journey, I’ve come to understand the lessons the river has taught me. Pain and growth, whether in childhood or adulthood, teach strong lessons. I’ve gathered them in and managed to weave something out of it all, yet I’m not quite certain what it is all about. I just know that it is there, and that someday I’ll look over it and maybe have some insight that isn’t present now.

What I have learned from all of this is that there are times when the insights we gather serve us well, and other times when our view can trap us into paths we’d rather not wander on.

So, as I pause on this river, look and observe, I can’t get too snarky or certain. I am, like each of you, a traveler on this river. I navigate it with respect. I turn to the master pilot and navigator and announce that it is time to run this new river area. I smile, get a slice of bread and cheese, and more fresh water. I wonder who the new guides will be. I wonder if I’ve learned enough to guide myself or others. I realize that it’s not my call. But the master of navigation seems to feel that I’m ready. I turn my back on the damage holding the triumph and wisdom in my heart and raise my voice to the skies in a way I have not done in two years.

“Okay, cast off!” I drop the ropes that have anchored the boat to shore and sing as I do so. The boat feels good and sturdy, and I know that on this new stretch I’ll learn, grow, and move in ways I have not done before. I wave to the navigator, who is once again on the shore but never out of contact range.

“Show me what you can do now! I’ve been waiting so long for you to run this portion of the river, and run it you will!”